Brain Development

Reconnecting with Cloned Neurons

Toss in some cloned neurons into a gaping hole in your spinal cord, and what do you get? It’s very likely you might just find yourself walking again in no time at all.

This is at least what scientists at the University Of South Florida Health Sciences Center are anticipating. Instead of plugging in a device that relies on silicon chip-interfaced brain cells to replace damaged nervous communication links, Prof. Samuel Saporta and his group directly transplant neurons grown from a special type of cancer cell. These neurons connect up with the existing network on their own without any outside control.

This is a very critical concept that we must understand in more detail, not only for the above application, but also for making neuron devices. If we want to be able to control the activity of an implanted device, we must be able to design the neurons in such a way that they will properly communicate with the recipient’s existing neural network.

Neuron are capable of connecting up to other neurons in functional ways on their own, which an example of “self-organization” (to throw in a buzz-word). Before neurotechnologies will every be widely useful, we must understand the self-organizational properties of neurons–as has been indirectly witnessed by Saporta’s team–in order to guide the proper development of neural prosthetic devices.

[Read the article from ScienceDaily Magazine]

Preventative Maintenance for Neurons

Once again, scientists are discovering new reasons why the adage that your brain cells never grow back is not entirely correct. The article below describes the recent results from Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne of Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Stanford University where his group fed a special molecule to a neuron and then cut it (in a rat, of course). The neuron’s structures grew back after the injury giving some clues as to how we might be able to build on this technique to help humans repair a damaged nervous system.

[Read the article from Yahoo! News]

Neuron Groups Strike a Pose

In order for implanted neuron devices to successfully be used as a corrective tool for neurological disorders, it is critical that we have an understanding of exactly how the electrical activity between neurons corresponds to actual physical movement of the body.

A Princeton University team recently took electrical measurements in a monkey’s brain suggesting that groups of neurons in the motor cortex (generally near the surface of the top of your brain) controlled complicated physical postures. This is in significant contrast to the prevailing view that these motor neurons only control specific muscles.

This is an interesting new look at brain function because it suggests that small clumps of interconnected neurons can direct much higher-level body function. This might make the barriers to better understanding the brain even higher, since we won’t be able to attribute a single neuron or neuron group directly to a specific part of our body.

So, instead of thinking “this specific neuron that excites a muscle has to talk to this other neuron to excite another muscle, which then has to talk to this other neuron” in order to coordinate the lifting of a finger, we must think more in terms of networks of neurons collectively directing complicated behaviors. It really will become messy if we find different networked groups of neurons controlling the same set of muscles, but resulting in different physical behaviors.

[Read the article from Reuters Health]

Baby neurons help their elders

Your mother always told you that you if you loose your brain cells to too much booze, then they won’t ever grow back.

Contrary to this popular belief, scientists have found that baby neurons in rat brains can develop and form new, functional connections within established neuron networks. To see this “neurogensis” in action, a stain was introduced into the brain that would only make dividing cells glow. Younger neurons undergoing cell division appeared a distinctive fluorescent color, while the older, non-dividing neurons remained in the dark.

Of course, it is still an assumption that this phenomena occurs in humans as well. However, it is anticipated that by gaining an understanding of how neurogenesis works, scientists can develop therapeutic methods to help reverse degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

[Read the article from Wired News]

Last updated October 26, 2021