Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Diseases of the Brain: Computer Model of Nerve Cells Provides Insights into Communication Problems


In diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the neurons fail to communicate correctly with each other. As Bonn-based researchers of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) now report in the journal “Neuron“, these connectivity problems can be ascribed to alterations in the structure of the nerve cells.

For their study, the scientists investigated diseased nerve cells using high precision methods and subsequently simulated their electrical properties on the computer. In their view, medical interventions that preserve the structural integrity of neurons may constitute an innovative strategy for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Inside the brain, the nerve cells, which are also called “neurons,” are woven into a network in which they relay signals to one another. Thus, neurons form intricate projections that enable them to transmit electrical stimuli and synchronize their activity.

“However, in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and in other diseases of the brain, the nerve cells tend to atrophy. This is a typical symptom of neurodegenerative processes,” explains Professor Stefan Remy, who leads a research group at the Bonn site of the DZNE and also works for the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital Bonn. “In general, diseased cells have smaller as well as fewer extensions than healthy cells.”

Troubles in Communication

It is also known that the signal transmission between neurons is disturbed. The nerve cells are hyper-excitable. As a result, they fire electrical impulses in a succession that could best be described as hectic. “This activity is somewhat reminiscent of epileptic activity. However, to date it was unclear how changes in cell morphology and abnormal function are related,” remarks Remy.

“We have now found that if the form changes, this has a direct impact on the cell’s electrical properties. It’s just like in an electrical power cord. A thin cord that is also short has different electrical properties than a cord that’s thick and longer. We were able to show that the hyper-excitability can be explained by changes in the structure of the neurons.”

The neuroscientist emphasizes that this finding does not rule out other factors, such as alterations in cell metabolism. “However, our results demonstrate that the dysfunctions and the shape of the neurons are closely connected. Up until now we were not aware of this relationship.”

Precise Measurements and Computer Simulations

For their study, the scientists combined experimental research with computer simulations. At first, they examined the electrical activities of individual neurons as well as those of larger cell groups. For this purpose, they studied mice, whose brains exhibited Alzheimer-typical hallmarks.

Furthermore, using high-precision microscope techniques, the scientists determined the dimensions of healthy and diseased nerve cells. Based upon this structural data, Remy’s team created a three-dimensional model of a single neuron and computed its electrical properties. In this way the researchers were able to relate cellular dysfunction to changes in cell morphology.

A General Effect

“Our study focused on Alzheimer’s. However, alterations in cell morphology are typical for all neurodegenerative diseases. Hence, we assume that the dysfunctions in cellular communication that manifest in other brain diseases are also resulting from structural changes. We think that this is a general effect shared by different diseases.”

In the opinion of the Bonn-based researcher, these findings cast a new light on pathological hallmarks. On the other hand, they could possibly also help with options for treatment. “Our results indicate that if one protects the structure of nerve cells, one also protects their functions. Pharmaceuticals aiming specifically at safeguarding the shape of neurons could potentially have a positive impact on disease progression. Cell morphology would be a novel approach for therapy,” says Remy.

“Moreover, our computer model might prove helpful in studying the effects of these treatment options and in predicting their outcome.”

Original publication
“Dendritic Structural Degeneration is Functionally Linked to Cellular Hyperexcitability in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease”, Zuzana Šišková, Daniel Justus, Hiroshi Kaneko, Detlef Friedrichs, Niklas Henneberg, Tatjana Beutel, Julika Pitsch, Susanne Schoch, Albert Becker, Heinz von der Kammer, Stefan Remy, Neuron, 2014, doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.024

Weitere Informationen:

Dr. Marcus Neitzert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Sweetening neurotransmitter receptors and other neuronal proteins
28.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung

nachricht A new look at thyroid diseases
28.10.2016 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>