New mechanism controlling brain development found

31st Oct 2016

UK researchers have identified a new mechanism controlling brain development. 

They found that developing nerve cells are able to 'feel' their environment as a they grow, helping them to make correct connections within the brain and other areas of the body.

Previous research has shown that these neurons find their connections by 'sniffing' out the chemical signals, but this study has shown that it is not only the chemical signals but also physical properties of their environment which guide the neurons through growth. 

Using a long wired like extension, called an axon, neurons carry electrical signals throughout the brain and body. During development, axons must grow along precisely defined pathways until they connect with their targets. Mechanical and chemical factors are used to help the axons follow the correct pathway, to avoid errors in neuronal 'wiring' which occur in spinal cord injuries.

In order to move, growing neurons must exert forces on their environment. The environment in turn exerts forces back, allowing the axons to 'feel' the mechanical properties of their surroundings, and adjust growth behaviour. 

These findings can lead to potential treatments for spinal cord injuries and other types of neuronal damage.

To read more about this, please visit Nature website

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