Duke University Medical Center neurobiologists have discovered how neurons in the brain "reset" when they are overly active. This molecular reset switch works to increase or decrease the sensitivity of brain cells to stimulation by their neighbors. Such "homeostatic plasticity" is critical for the brain to adapt to changes in the environment -- either to avoid having its neurons swamped by increased activity of a neural pathway, or rendered too insensitive to detect triggering impulses from other neurons when neural activity is low. This plasticity is distinct from the more rapid changes in neural circuits laid down early during the formation of memories, said the scientists.
Michael D. Ehlers, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, department of neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center
PHOTO CREDIT: This photo is the property of Duke University.
According to the researchers, their basic studies provide long-sought clues to how neurons protect themselves during stroke, epilepsy, and spinal cord injury. Also, their findings may help explain diverse brain changes that occur during early childhood and that go awry in later stages of life in Alzheimers or Parkinsons disease.
The researchers, led by Assistant Professor of Neurobiology Michael Ehlers, M.D., published their findings in the Oct. 30, 2003, issue of the journal Neuron. Other authors are Yuanyue Mu, Ph.D., Takeshi Otsuka, Ph.D., April Horton and Derek Scott. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and a Broad Scholars Award.
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