Neuroscientists at Tufts University School of Medicine, in collaboration with colleagues at Yale University School of Medicine, have discovered a new molecular mechanism that is essential for the maturation of brain function. Unlike previous research that broadly affects the brain, this study aims for the first time a specific molecule acting on a single type of neuronal connection to modulate brain function.
The research in mice could advance understanding and treatment of human diseases as autism spectrum disorders and stroke. It is published in Cell Reports on January 8, 2019.
The human brain is very plastic during childhood, and all young mammals have a "critical period" when remodel neural connections in response to external stimuli. Disruption of this precise developmental sequence results in serious damage;
"It's been known for a while that maturation of inhibitory nerve cells in the brain controls the onset of critical period plasticity." said Adema Ribic, Ph.D., research scientist at Tufts School of Medicine and first author of the new study. SynCAMs may be involved in this process. "
The study focused on the visual cortex for processing visual scenes, in which plasticity has been examined in many species. Using advanced viral tools and electrophysiological techniques, the researchers were able to measure the activity of nerve cells (neurons) in awake mice. They found that removal of the SynCAM 1
Ribic likens inhibitory neurons to a dial control when brain plasticity occur. Plasticity is needed during early development, as the function of different brain areas matures. SynCAM 1.
"Our study identified a fundamental mechanism that controls brain plasticity, and perhaps most exciting, we can show that a process in the adult brain". Thomas Biederer, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at Tufts School of Medicine and a member of the Neuroscience Program faculty at the Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences at Tufts. "Therefore, the limited ability of the mature brain to change is not just enforced by the SynCAM mechanism, which could be relevant to the mechanism of re-open plasticity in the mature brain for treating disorders like autism. "
Focusing on a single molecule and synapse type to induce the heightened plasticity. "For example, antidepressants may restore plasticity but also have a lot of other effects," said Ribic, who said that plasticity is not always better. "Our study found a way to increase plasticity in a very controlled way, both spatially and temporally." [Combinedwiththelatestapproachestogeneticmanipulationthismayprovetobeanewpathtotacklebothchildhooddisordersandbraininjuryinadults"19659003] This plasticity mechanism wants to work in humans as well as mice and can be activated repeatedly.
The study is the latest work from the Biederer group at Tufts University School of Medicine, which focuses on mechanisms of plasticity
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