Show/hide main menu

News

News Highlights

Spontaneous activity shapes neuron development

Posted on 12/02/2015
Spontaneous activity shapes neuron development

A process previously thought to be mere background noise in the brain has been found to shape the growth of neurons as the brain develops, according to research from the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology (CDN), Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), published in Cell Reports.

Spontaneous release of neurotransmitter by neurons in the brain previously had no clearly defined function but researchers from the MRC CDN, IoPPN noticed that considerably more spontaneous release events happened during development. It now appears that spontaneous release of the neurotransmitter glutamate may cause the processes of a growing neuron to branch, enabling it to connect with countless other neurons via chemical connections called synapses. Synapses are responsible for regulating the passage of electrical signals through the brain. As well as explaining spontaneous glutamate release in the developing brain, the researchers also found that glutamate is effective at far larger distances than previously thought. This work has important implications for our understanding of how neurons develop and connect with each other, which in turn could be relevant to treating neurodevelopmental disorders that affect synapse development, such as autism.

“Spontaneous release has long been the poor cousin to release evoked by activity and, in the past, was often assumed to simply represent ‘noise’ in the system,” said Dr Laura Andreae, Lecturer in the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, who jointly led the research. “We’ve found that, in fact, it has an important role in promoting the complex branching pattern of neuronal dendrites – the tree-like processes that neurons use to connect with other neurons.”

Branching allows the neuron to form multiple junctions that can connect it to other neurons and so is essential for building the network of neurons that form brain structure. This new research suggests that a key signal for a neuron to branch into a new dendrite comes from spontaneous release events and the cue occurs much earlier in the neuron growth cycle than previously thought, even before the formation of synapses. 

“One aspect we find especially fascinating is that the brain is using exactly the same machinery that we traditionally think of as being involved in synapse function to help build synaptic connections early on in development. Using the same neurotransmitter, namely glutamate, and many of the same synaptic proteins in both systems is very efficient.”

A better understanding of how neurons in the brain develop may help us overcome disorders including autism and intellectual disability. 

Dr Andreae concludes: “We think spontaneous release may be far more important than previously realised for the development of neural connections. We’d now like to understand this process better, and also find out whether it is affected in models of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, or intellectual disability.”

Paper reference: Andreae, L. and Burrone, J. ‘Spontaneous Neurotransmitter Release Shapes Dendritic Arbors via Long-Range Activation of NMDA Receptors’ published in Cell Reports DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2015.01.032

For further information contact Tom Bragg, Press Officer at IoPPN, King’s College London, on +44(0)2078485377 or email tom.bragg@kcl.ac.uk

Rss Feed Atom Feed

News Highlights:

News Highlights...RSS FeedAtom Feed

REACH grabs Consolidator Grant

REACH grabs Consolidator Grant

Description
Professor Craig Morgan of the IoPPN has been awarded a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for his REACH study that will investigate the development of mental health problems during adolescence in a range of ethnic groups.
Hearing voices video wins Cultural Institute prize

Hearing voices video wins Cultural Institute prize

Description
Yesterday the Cultural Institute at King's hosted an evening showcase of the work of King's academics, as part of the first King's Collaborative Innovation Scheme for Early Career Researchers. The IoPPN's Charlie Heriot-Maitland took a top prize.
Genetic overlap of same-sex attraction and mating success

Genetic overlap of same-sex attraction and mating success

Description
Genetic factors that influence same-sex attractions may also convey reproductive advantage in women, according to a new study led by the IoPPN at King's College London, published today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Share this story:

add

Follow Us

@kingscollegelon

Live Twitter feed...

@kingscollegelon
Join the conversation
Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions Accessibility Recruitment News Centre Contact us

© 2016 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454