A stroke is just one example of a condition when communication between nerve cells breaks down. Micro-failures in brain functioning also occur in conditions such as depression and dementia. In most cases, the lost capacity will return after a while. However, consequential damage will often remain so that the functional capability can only be restored through lengthy treatment — if at all. For this reason, researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have been investigating what happens during such breakdown phases and looking at possible ways of preventing damage and speeding up the healing processes.
The research team headed by Jana Wrosch of FAU’s Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy found that significant alterations occurred in neural cells while the communication pathways were blocked. Neuron networks reconnect during such periods of inactivity and become hypersensitive.
If we imagine that normal communication pathways are motorways, when they are blocked a form of traffic chaos occurs in the brain whereby information is re-routed in disorganised form along what can be called side streets and minor routes.
Additional synapses are generated everywhere and begin operating. When the signal is reinstated, the previously coordinated information routes no longer exist and, as in the case of a child, the appropriate functions need to be learned from scratch. Since they are receiving no normal signals during the phase of brain malfunction, the nerve cells also become more sensitive in an attempt to find the missing input. Once the signals return, this means they may overreact.
Nerve cells flicker when stained
Visualising the microscopically minute connections between the nerve cells is a major technical challenge. The conventional microscopic techniques currently available, such as electron microscopy, always require preliminary treatment of the nerve cells that are to undergo examination. However, this causes the nerve cells to die, so that the alterations that occur in the cells cannot be observed.
To get round this problem, Wrosch and her team have developed a high-speed microscopy process along with special statistical computer software that make it possible to visualise the communication networks of living neurons. First, a video of the cells is made whereby an image is taken every 36 milliseconds.
A special dye is used to stain the cells to ensure that the individual cells flicker whenever they receive a signal. Subsequently, the software recognises these cells on the video images and detects the information pathways by which the signals are transmitted from cell to cell.
The nerve cells are then exposed to the pufferfish poison tetrodotoxin to simulate the blocking of communication channels that occurs in disorders. After inducing communication breakdown phases of varying lengths, the researchers remove the toxin from the cells and determine how the nerve cell networks have changed during exposure.
‘Thanks to this concept, we have been finally able to discover what happens when communication is blocked,’ explains Wrosch. ‘Now we can try to develop medications that will help prevent these damaging changes.’ In future projects, the research team plans to examine the exact mode of action of anti-depressants on nerve cell networks and intends to find new approaches to creating more effective drugs.
Their findings have been recently published in the eminent journal Scientific Reports (doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-11729-5).
Jana Katharina Wrosch
Phone: +49 9131 8544294
Dr. Susanne Langer | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Body's natural signal carriers can help melanoma spread
21.01.2020 | University of Eastern Finland
Refining Breast Cancer Classification by Multiplexed Imaging
21.01.2020 | Universität Zürich
For years, a new synthesis method has been developed at TU Wien (Vienna) to unlock the secrets of "strange metals". Now a breakthrough has been achieved. The results have been published in "Science".
Superconductors allow electrical current to flow without any resistance - but only below a certain critical temperature. Many materials have to be cooled down...
KIT researchers develop novel composites of DNA, silica particles, and carbon nanotubes -- Properties can be tailored to various applications
Using DNA, smallest silica particles, and carbon nanotubes, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) developed novel programmable materials....
Styrofoam or copper - both materials have very different properties with regard to their ability to conduct heat. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz and the University of Bayreuth have now jointly developed and characterized a novel, extremely thin and transparent material that has different thermal conduction properties depending on the direction. While it can conduct heat extremely well in one direction, it shows good thermal insulation in the other direction.
Thermal insulation and thermal conduction play a crucial role in our everyday lives - from computer processors, where it is important to dissipate heat as...
In order to advance the transfer of research developments from the field of quantum sensor technology into industrial applications, an application laboratory is being established at Fraunhofer IAF. This will enable interested companies and especially regional SMEs and start-ups to evaluate the innovation potential of quantum sensors for their specific requirements. Both the state of Baden-Württemberg and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are supporting the four-year project with one million euros each.
The application laboratory is being set up as part of the Fraunhofer lighthouse project »QMag«, short for quantum magnetometry. In this project, researchers...
Microtubules, filamentous structures within the cell, are required for many important processes, including cell division and intracellular transport. A...
16.01.2020 | Event News
15.01.2020 | Event News
07.01.2020 | Event News
22.01.2020 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
22.01.2020 | Life Sciences
22.01.2020 | Life Sciences