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Exploring how the nervous system develops
Date:6/19/2014

of cells. The result was entirely unexpected.

"Current views of retinal development propose that molecular switches control the alternate fates a newborn neuron should adopt, leading one to expect negative correlations between certain cell types," said Reese, who is also a professor in UCSB's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "Still others have proposed that synaptically connected nerve cells 'match' their pre- and post-synaptic numbers through a process of naturally occurring cell death, leading one to expect positive correlations between connected cell types. Neither expectation was borne out."

"If the cell types are not correlated, then some mice will have retinas with a lot of one cell type say, photoreceptors but not a lot of another cell type to connect to, in this case bipolar cells, or vice versa," Keeley added. "So how does the developing retina accommodate this variation?"

The authors posit that since the ratios of pre- to post-synaptic cell number are not precisely controlled, the rules for connecting them should offer a degree of plasticity as they wire their connections during development.

Take bipolar cells as an example. To test this assumption, the scientists looked at the morphology of their dendrites, the threadlike extensions of a neuron that gather synaptic input. Keeley and coworkers examined their size, their branching pattern and the number of contacts they formed as a function of the number of surrounding bipolar cells and the number of photoreceptors across these different strains.

"We found that the extent of dendritic growth was proportional to the local density of bipolar cells," Keeley explained. "If there are more, they grow smaller dendrites. If there are fewer, they grow larger dendrites.

"Photoreceptor number, on the other hand, had no effect upon the size of the dendritic field of the bipolar cells but determined the frequency of branching made by those very dendri
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Contact: Julie Cohen
julie.cohen@ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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