Spinal nerve connections develop using simple rules

January 9, 2014
Spinal nerve connections develop using simple rules
A tadpole against a background showing a fragment of the computer generated network which can produce its swimming movements. Credit: Professor Alan Roberts

(Medical Xpress)—Repairing spinal injuries with stem cells may be a step closer thanks to scientists at the Universities of Bristol and Plymouth. A new study, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, employed novel techniques to show that spinal nerve cell networks may develop using much simpler rules than expected.

In the first study of its kind, the scientists studied the anatomy and physiology of young frog tadpoles and, from the results, built the first complete reconstruction of a nerve cell network that can produce complex behaviour in a whole vertebrate organism.

They observed imprecise connections between nerve cell fibres depending on where they were located in the brain and spinal cord, and built these into their computer model of . It contained nearly 100,000 connections and can make a model of the tadpole nervous system 'swim' when stimulated.

The findings challenge the generally accepted idea that in developing embryonic animals are only made using highly specific recognition processes like those used when in the eye find the correct part of the brain.

Lead researcher Professor Alan Roberts from Bristol's School of Biological Sciences said: "Adult animal nervous systems are highly complex with billions of connections, however, since humans evolved from simple vertebrates like fish and frogs our results imply that early in development, simple rules may lay out the first functional nerve cell networks in our brains.

"The next step is to investigate how imprecise the connections can be while still allowing the correct behaviour to be displayed and to understand how the networks controlling other aspects of tadpole behaviour are constructed."

Explore further: Mathematical model unlocks key to brain wiring

More information: "Can Simple Rules Control Development of a Pioneer Vertebrate Neuronal Network Generating Behavior?" Alan Roberts, Deborah Conte, Mike Hull, Robert Merrison-Hort, Abul Kalam al Azad, Edgar Buhl, Roman Borisyuk, Stephen R. Soffe. Journal of Neuroscience, 8 January 2014, 34(2): 608-621; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3248-13.2014

Related Stories

Mathematical model unlocks key to brain wiring

May 10, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- A new mathematical model predicting how nerve fibres make connections during brain development could aid understanding of how some cognitive disorders occur.

Stem cell scarring aids recovery from spinal cord injury

October 31, 2013

In a new study, researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden show that the scar tissue formed by stem cells after a spinal cord injury does not impair recovery; in fact, stem cell scarring confines the damage. The findings, ...

Scientists identify clue to regrowing nerve cells

November 7, 2013

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a chain reaction that triggers the regrowth of some damaged nerve cell branches, a discovery that one day may help improve treatments for ...

Two-way traffic in the spinal cord

December 19, 2013

The progress a baby makes in the first year of life is amazing: a newborn can only wave its arms and legs about randomly, but not so long after the baby can reach out and pick up a crumb from the carpet. What happens in the ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.