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Scientists show how a neuron gets its shape
Date:4/3/2009

on how to react to it.

Two genes, called dex-1 and dyf-7, caught their attention. If the animals had a mutation in either one of these genes, Heiman and Shaham saw that even though the cell migrated normally away from the tip of the nose, the dendrite didn't stay anchored. Instead, it dragged along behind the cell body, resulting in an abnormally short dendrite. When they looked at the function of the proteins, the researchers found that they form a matrix to which the dendrites are anchored. Without the matrix to anchor the neuron, the dendrites didn't form properly.

The two proteins, it turns out, are very similar to proteins that anchor the hair cells that detect sound waves in the human ear. "That was our second surprise," says Heiman. "That there is this evolutionary relationship between a sensory organ in a worm and a sensory organ in humans. In the case of the worm, the anchor is being used to resist the force of cell migration. In our ear, it is the same anchor but it is being used for a completely different purpose."

The scientists' theory that the brain is wired based on connectivity (not absolute distance) provides an explanation of how the brain grows in proportion to the growth of an organism. "As the worm grows, its dendrites get longer and longer and the position of cell bodies change as they move farther away from a synapse," says Shaham. "But what stays the same are these connections."


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Contact: Thania Benios
tbenios@rockefeller.edu
212-327-7146
Rockefeller University
Source:Eurekalert

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