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Fittest Of Newborn Neurons Survive

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies say that even in young neurons it is the survival of the fittest. Whether a new neuron lives or is killed off// depends on its ability to establish connections with other cells. This new study is conducted by the lab of Fred H. Gage, Ph.D., a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory and the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases. It says that a subunit of the NMDA receptor is vital in the integration of new neurons in the brain. The study is due to appear in a forthcoming issue of Nature.

The NMDA receptor is activated by the neurotransmitter glutamate, a chemical released by neurons in order to transmit information to neighboring cells. Whenever the receptor picks up a glutamate signal it is stimulated and relays the signal. But for newborn neurons that signal means something else entirely -- survival.

"When we removed the NMDA receptor, that is when cells make connections in response to glutamate in the environment, the newborn neurons withered and died at a specific stage of their maturation," explains Gage. " The NMDA receptor modulates synapse formation and determines what pattern of input activity new neurons receive, which in turn determines survival or death."

Combining mouse genetics and gene transfer techniques, Gage and a team headed by former postdoctoral fellow Ayumu Tashiro, Ph.D., injected a virus carrying a pair of molecular shears capable of deleting a gene encoding part of the NMDA receptor into the hippocampus, a brain region harboring neural stem cells that give rise to new neurons. Newly born neurons infected with virus were marked by a fluorescent dye enabling detection of neurons derived from those cells.

A few weeks later, animals that received the virus showed fewer fluorescent neurons compared to mice injected with a benign virus lacking the shears, meaning fewer new neurons had survived origina
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