Scientists Decode How Neurons Ride Their Way To The Final Destination
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The neuron is the basic working unit of the brain. It is a specialized cell designed to transmit information to other nerve cells, muscle, or gland cells. According to a study published in the Journal of Cell Biology, the basic functions of human beings is depended on the journey of neurons getting to where they need to go, and making correct connections once they arrive. This phenomenon ensures that our eyes can see, our ears can hear, our fingers can touch, and so on.

The study, which was conducted by the researchers from Drexel University, further reveals that "once the human brain develops, neurons leave their birthplace and take a trip to distant locations. Once they reach their final destination, the neurons then send out axons and dendrites -- the branches that receive and send messages from other cells.

The researchers shows that the sliding movements of a small group of intracellular structures -- called microtubules -- play a key role in keeping neurons on a smooth, proper trajectory.

According to Peter Baas, PhD, a professor in the College of Medicine and the study's principal investigator, this finding could help in the better understanding of how neurons gone astray contribute to neuro-developmental disorders.

"This study is important for understanding how a healthy brain is organized. If neurons do not know when to start migrating, or where to go, or if the axons don't grow long enough, that sort of thing can give way to disorders such as autism," said Baas.

This researcher also throws light on microtubules and the molecular motor proteins that generate forces on these intracellular structures. It must be noted that till the recent past, scientists believed that microtubules' main functions were to grow longer and shorter -- as merely "passive players" in the wiring of the nervous system. However, Baas has spent his career studying the ways in which motor proteins push and pull on microtubules, causing them turn, and thus enabling the axon to move in response to cues inside the embryo.

Baas and his research team used electron tomography to discover whether some microtubules might actually be detached from the centrosome, and if so, how that detachment might contribute to neuron migration. They found that a small group of microtubules were not attached to the centrosome, and that motor proteins can actually slide these unattached microtubules within the neuron as it migrates.

The next thing researchers wanted to know find out was that if those sliding, unattached microtubules matter? To unravel this, they added a drug to immobilize them. The team then saw that neuron frequently changed direction, instead of migrating in a simple and straight line.

"When we used the drug that inhibits sliding, we saw that the neuron can't migrate in a nice straight, smooth trajectory. That's how we found out that little bit of sliding that normally occurs is really important for maneuverability," said Baas.
Let wait and watch how researchers will use this study in finding a cure for several neuro-developmental disorders.
(Image: Thinkstock)