Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

After 100 Years, Understanding the Electrical Role of Dendritic Spines

06.12.2012
It’s the least understood organ in the human body: the brain, a massive network of electrically excitable neurons, all communicating with one another via receptors on their tree-like dendrites. Somehow these cells work together to enable great feats of human learning and memory. But how?
Researchers know dendritic spines play a vital role. These tiny membranous structures protrude from dendrites’ branches; spread across the entire dendritic tree, the spines on one neuron collect signals from an average of 1,000 others. But more than a century after they were discovered, their function still remains only partially understood.

A Northwestern University researcher, working in collaboration with scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Janelia Farm Research Campus, has recently added an important piece of the puzzle of how neurons “talk” to one another. The researchers have demonstrated that spines serve as electrical compartments in the neuron, isolating and amplifying electrical signals received at the synapses, the sites at which neurons connect to one another.

The key to this discovery is the result of innovative experiments at the Janelia Farm Research Campus and computer simulations performed at Northwestern University that can measure electrical responses on spines throughout the dendrites.

A paper about the findings, “Synaptic Amplification by Dendritic Spines Enhances Input Cooperatively,” was published November 22 in the journal Nature.

“This research conclusively shows that dendritic spines respond to and process synaptic inputs not just chemically, but also electrically,” said William Kath, professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, professor of neurobiology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and one of the paper’s authors.

Dendritic spines come in a variety of shapes, but typically consist of a bulbous spine head at the end of a thin tube, or neck. Each spine head contains one or more synapses and is located in very close proximity to an axon coming from another neuron.

Scientists have gained insight into the chemical properties of dendritic spines: receptors on their surface are known to respond to a number of neurotransmitters, such as glutamate and glycine, released by other neurons. But because of the spines’ incredibly small size — roughly 1/100 the diameter of a human hair — their electrical properties have been harder to study

In this study, researchers at the HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus used three experimental techniques to assess the electrical properties of dendritic spines in rats’ hippocampi, a part of the brain that plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation. First, the researchers used two miniature electrodes to administer current and measure its voltage response at different sites throughout the dendrites.

They also used a technique called “glutamate uncaging,” a process that involves releasing glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, to evoke electrical responses from specific synapses, as if the synapse had just received a signal from a neighboring neuron. A third process utilized a calcium-sensitive dye — calcium is a chemical indicator of a synaptic event — injected into the neuron to provide an optical representation of voltage changes within the spine.

At Northwestern, researchers used computational models of real neurons — reconstructed from the same type of rat neurons — to build a 3D representation of the neuron with accurate information about each dendrites’ placement, diameter, and electrical properties. The computer simulations, in concert with the experiments, indicated that spines’ electrical resistance is consistent throughout the dendrites, regardless of where on the dendritic tree they are located.

While much research is still needed to gain a full understanding of the brain, knowledge about spines’ electrical processing could lead to advances in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

“The brain is much more complicated than any computer we’ve ever built, and understanding how it works could lead to advances not just in medicine, but in areas we haven’t considered yet,” Kath said. “We could learn how to process information in ways we can only guess at now.”

Other authors of the paper, all of HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus, include lead author Mark T. Harnett, Judit K. Makara, Nelson Spruston (formerly of Northwestern University), and Jeffrey C. Magee, the senior author on the paper.

Megan Fellman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.northwestern.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

nachricht Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>