Getting wired: How the brain does it
In a new study, researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro), McGill University have found an important mechanism involved in setting up the vast communications network of connections in the brain.
A signaling pathway involving interactions between a schizophrenia-linked gene product, Calcineurin, and a transcription factor known as Nuclear Factor in Activated T-cells (NFAT) contributes to the connectivity at nerve cell (neuron) junctions or synapses and affects the extent of nerve cell projections or dendritic branches, in the visual system. The results of this study, published in the journal Neuron, may bring hope to adults suffering from brain injuries and offer the possibility of early diagnosis, treatments and therapies for schizophrenia, autism or other developmental disorders where abnormal neurological wiring is thought to occur early in life.
In early brain development, there is an overabundance of unspecified connections between neurons. During development (and learning), these connections are pruned, leaving the stronger and more specific ones. This refinement occurs in response to a set of inputs from the environment, and is traditionally thought to be mediated through changes at synapses – the specialized junctions through which neurons communicate with each other.