As the brain develops, neurons reach out helter-skelter to form new connections, only a small number of which take hold. How the brain chooses which connections to keep and which to prune back appears to be governed by which branches have the most electrical activity-a finding that could help to explain how early experiences guide brain development.
The work, published in the April 21 issue of Nature, takes advantage of tiny, see-through zebrafish. Stephen Smith, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his graduate student Jackie Hua immersed 3-day-old fish in a breathable, Jell-O-like substance that kept the fish alive but immobile. The researchers could then focus video cameras on the fishs developing brain to watch how the branches of individual neurons grew and shrank over time.
It turns out that determining which of the branches will grow follows an age-old axiom: The squeaky neuron gets the grease. "Louder neurons drown out their quieter neighbors," Smith said.
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