Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory may have found the key to controlling how the brain is wired while studying the bursts of activity that occur after communication between neurons.
First, I will give an overview of neural communication. Neural cells communicate with each other at a synapse, which is the point of contact between the cells at which signals are transmitted. The action potential stimulates the input cell (presynaptic) to release neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters travel across the synaptic cleft and bind to neurotransmitter receptors on the receiving (postsynaptic) cell. However, the action of the neurotransmitter needs to be controlled so that the cell is not continually activated.
That is where this new research, conducted by Sarah Huntwork and J Troy Littleton, comes in. These scientists have identified a molecule, called complexin, which acts as a gatekeeper to help control the release of neurotransmitters. As it turns out, a few cells will continue to release neurotransmitters even after the major electrical stimulus has passed. They call these events “minis”, which are regulated by complexin. However, they have discovered that in the absence of complexin, these minis can occur without regulation, and when they do, it can lead to rewiring of the brain and synaptic growth.
So what does this mean in terms of neurological diseases? The activity of complexin can be controlled, and if properly regulated, may allow synaptic growth to be stimulated and rewiring of the brain to occur.