Time-lapse movies show brain cells move like a two-stroke engine

Following the often-quoted advice of Yogi Berra -- "You can observe a lot by just watching" -- Rockefeller University scientists show that nerve cells in the developing brains of humans and other mammals move in a two-part "step" led by a structure within the cell called the centrosome. Once the centrosome, the key organizing point for the cell's internal skeleton, moves forward, the cell nucleus follows. The Rockefeller scientists produced time-lapse movies that show nerve cell migration in unprecedented clarity and detail.

The finding, reported in the October 10 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, overturns a widely accepted view of how nerve cells, or neurons, move in the young developing brain. Until now, researchers generally thought that the explanation for how a neuron migrates to its destination in the brain lies in the way the cell adheres to, and later releases, thread-like cells called radial glia. The researchers, led by Mary E. Hatten, Frederick P. Rose Professor and head of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology at Rockefeller, also discovered that a protein called Par6-alpha plays an important role in spurring the centrosome to action.

"Scientists have spent the last 15 years focusing on adhesion as the most important aspect of cell migration," says Hatten. "These experiments illustrate that we've been looking in the wrong place. Adhesion is necessary, but not sufficient for neuronal migration."

In humans, the migration of young neurons to the brain's cerebellar cortex, which controls movement and balance, continues until a child reaches the age of two. Serious disorders ranging from the epilepsies to cortical malformations result if the process goes awry, and the brain's proper architecture does not develop.

Neurons are produced in the center of the brain as a human or other mammal develops from an embryo into an infant or young animal. They then travel outward to form the brain's outer layer, or cortex, and oth

Contact: Lynn Love
Rockefeller University

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