NIH-funded researchers develop novel tools to learn how astrocytes listen in on neurons

Findings suggest that astrocytes in the mossy fiber system may act as a switch that reacts to large amounts of neuronal activity by raising their levels of calcium. These calcium increases occur over multiple seconds, a relatively long time period compared to that seen in neurons. The spatial extent of the astrocyte calcium increases was also relatively large in comparison to the size of the synapse.
Posted by Reuters

The mouse connectome provides the most detailed analysis of brain circuitry currently available for any mammalian brain.

A connectome is essentially a wiring diagram. It shows how each of the millions or billions of neurons (gray matter) in a brain each connect to thousands of other neurons through projections called axons, the white matter, and thereby allow brain regions to communicate to produce behavior, intelligence, and personality. Such a diagram could reveal, say, how neurons that register the taste of a cookie fan out to circuits that store memories and unleash a torrent of remembrances of things past. And it could reveal what causes those circuits to malfunction in diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Messenger RNA normally tells cellular machinery which protein to make. But sometimes it has a secret mission as well.

Findings show that mRNAS, which are typically thought to act solely as the template for protein translation, can also serve as regulatory RNAs, independent of their protein-coding capacity.

Single protein controls Drosophila nervous system development and survival

This research could also potentially impact how science and healthcare think about and treat brain injuries, Kuo said. Currently, damaged neurons that have lost their dendrites are unable to properly communicate with their neighbors, rendering them nonfunctional. The problem could be reversed, he said, by helping neurons modify their original developmental program and regrow new dendrites.

Using zebrafish, scientists can determine how individual neurons develop, mature and support basic functions like breathing, swallowing and jaw movement

Chandrasekhar’s work contributes to a better understanding of how neuronal networks are organized and “wired” during development. These studies also may provide insight into birth defects like spina bifida, which affects 1 in every 2,000 births, according to the National Institutes of Health.