New insights into how the developing brain is wired
Research from the Centre for Neurodevelopmental Biology gives an insight into how brain circuitry develops, shedding light on what may happen in neurodevelopmental disorders when the brain’s wiring goes wrong. The results, published in the prestigious journal Science by Professor Beatriz Rico and colleagues, significantly contribute to our understanding of how neural circuits form during development.
The cerebral cortex is the largest region of the human brain and is responsible for many of our advanced abilities. The cerebral cortex contains two main types of cells: excitatory and inhibitory neurons. The development of brain functioning depends upon the construction and organisation of neuronal connections between these two kinds of brain cells.
Inhibitory cells – called interneurons – come in different types, and the different types of interneurons connect with different parts of the excitatory cells – called pyramidal cells. Until now very little was known about how different interneurons connect with pyramidal cells.
The work research by Emilia Fazuzzi, Dr Ruben Deogracias and Professor Rico sheds light on the processes controlling how interneurons and pyramidal cells connect, identifying three genes responsible for the development of different kinds of connections between cells. Because these genes are also active in adult brains, the researchers say it is possible they also may have a role in brain plasticity, as well as development.
“In daily life, animal behaviours rely on the very precise connectivity among different neurons in the brain, reaching an exceptional level of complexity in the mammalian cerebral cortex,” says Professor Rico.
“In this new work we identified a repertoire of cell-specific molecular codes that emerge during development in cortical interneurons to provide the exquisite precision of inhibitory circuits. Unravelling this code is critical not only to understanding the diversity of neural circuitries, but also to design future strategies for targeting neurodevelopmental disorders linked to interneuron deficits such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.”
This research was supported by grants from the European Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
‘Distinct molecular programs regulate synapse specificity in cortical inhibitory circuits’ Favuzzi et al, Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8977
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