The same characteristics can be acquired differently when it comes to neurons

June 14, 2018, New York University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Distinct molecular mechanisms can generate the same features in different neurons, a team of scientists has discovered. Its findings, which appear in the journal Cell, enhance our understanding of brain cell development.

"We now have a better comprehension of how neurons form and acquire the features that allow them to fulfill their function in neural circuits that lead to specific behaviors," explains Nikos Konstantinides, a post-doctoral fellow at New York University's Department of Biology and one of the paper's lead authors. "These results point to several potential pathways for medical advancement, such as directing stem towards specific neuronal types that can be used to treat diseases by cell replacement therapy or by triggering to replace damaged tissue."

The brain contains many types of neurons that control our behavior; each neuron has distinct features that allow them to exert different functions. In order to regulate their interactions, neurons communicate with each other using specific chemicals called neurotransmitters.

The focus of the research published in Cell were the neurons in the visual system of the fruit fly Drosophila, which is commonly studied in deciphering the basic principles that direct the functions of the brain.

Conducted in the laboratories of Professor Claude Desplan, the paper's senior author, at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU's Department of Biology, the study deployed a cutting-edge technology, Drop-seq, to sequence the genes expressed in each of tens of thousands of cells.

Their results showed that different neuronal types in the fly visual system can acquire similar features—specifically, expression of the same neurotransmitter—using different mechanisms.

More broadly, the researchers discovered that this dynamic applies to other neuronal characteristics, resulting in a deeper understanding of how complex brain tissue composed of hundreds of interconnected cell types can form.

"The human brain is extremely complex and contains neurons belonging to thousands of cell types, rendering it technically very challenging to study and to understand how are generated and specified," explains Katarina Kapuralin, a post-doctoral researcher at NYU Abu Dhabi and the study's other lead author. "It is therefore necessary to study simpler nervous systems where we can use new technology to understand each of the cells that compose these brains. This will help us define fundamental rules that apply to more complex nervous systems."

Explore further: Using simplicity for complexity—new research sheds light on the perception of motion

More information: Cell (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.05.021

Related Stories

Using simplicity for complexity—new research sheds light on the perception of motion

March 22, 2018
A team of biologists has deciphered how neurons used in the perception of motion form in the brain of a fly —a finding that illustrates how complex neuronal circuits are constructed from simple developmental rules.

Interconnected cells-in-a-dish let researchers study brain disease

May 3, 2018
By creating multiple types of neurons from stem cells and observing how they interact, Salk scientists have developed a new way to study the connections between brain cells in the lab. Using the technique, which generates ...

Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

February 8, 2018
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons ...

Recommended for you

Scientists reveal new details of how a naturally occurring hormone can boost memory in aging mice

October 23, 2018
A Columbia study in mice has revealed new details of how a naturally occurring bone hormone reverses memory loss in the aging brain. These findings about the hormone, called osteocalcin, stand to spur further investigations ...

Mutation in common protein triggers tangles, chaos inside brain cells

October 23, 2018
A pioneer in the study of neural cells revealed today (Oct. 23, 2018) how a single mutation affecting the most common protein in a supporting brain cell produces devastating, fibrous globs. These, in turn, disturb the location ...

Nerve-on-a-chip platform makes neuroprosthetics more effective

October 23, 2018
EPFL scientists have developed a miniaturized electronic platform for the stimulation and recording of peripheral nerve fibers on a chip. By modulating and rapidly recording nerve activity with a high signal-to-noise ratio, ...

New study finds 'timing cells' in the brain may underlie an animal's inner clock

October 23, 2018
Are you taking your time when feeding your pet? Fluffy and Fido are on to you—and they can tell when you are dawdling.

Neurons reliably respond to straight lines

October 23, 2018
Single neurons in the brain's primary visual cortex can reliably detect straight lines, even though the cellular makeup of the neurons is constantly changing, according to a new study by Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists, ...

Researchers find mice lacking gene for PTPRD self-administer less cocaine

October 23, 2018
A team with members affiliated with several institutions in the U.S. has found that disabling the gene responsible for the production of the protein tyrosine phosphatase D (PTPRD) caused test mice to self-administer less ...

0 comments

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.