Researchers at Georgetown University have developed a novel technology to precisely measure the sensitivity of nerve fibers that wire up the brain during development. Through use of this technology, they discovered that these fibers, or axons, possess an incredible sensitivity to molecular guidance cues that direct the axon’s route to its desired destination in the brain. Their findings are described in the June issue of Nature Neuroscience.
Similar to connecting your PC, monitor, mouse and printer correctly to make all computer parts work, the developing brain needs a series of critical wiring connections to be made for it to function properly. But, unlike computers that come with a user and troubleshooting manual, nerve fibers called axons must follow molecular cues to find the right targets.
Much work has been done to understand what molecules are involved in this process, called axonal guidance. However, no technology until now allowed researchers to create a controllable, stable gradient with which one could measure the sensitivity of axons to gradients, and how that sensitivity can impact and guide the development of connections in the brain.
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