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

er brain structures. Long fibers of cells called glia guide the neurons in their journey. Under the microscope, a migrating neuron looks like a round cell perched on a rope, the glial fiber leading to its destination. Rather than gliding smoothly along the fiber, the neuron takes a "step." First it stretches out along the fiber, extending what scientists call a leading process in the direction it wants to move. About three minutes later the cell body catches up.

"It's almost like a little inchworm in the way it moves," says Hatten, whose time-lapse movies first revealed this motion in 1987. With each step the cells travel a little more than a micron, or about half the width of a hair over the course of an hour. The new study shows that a surprising mechanism underlies neuronal migration.

The Rockefeller scientists suspected that the cytoskeleton, the scaffold of elements called microtubules that support a cell's three-dimensional shape, was important to neuron migration. They knew that disrupting the cytoskeleton with chemicals prevents the cell from moving. In addition, problems with the cytoskeleton are implicated in human disorders in which nerve cells fail to migrate properly, such as Miller-Deiker syndrome. But no one had previously watched the cytoskeleton in living neurons in real time.

The researchers took a new type of fluorescent dye called Venus, which glows 20 times brighter than other dyes, and tagged the microtubules of a type of mouse neuron called a granule cell. Rockefeller scientist Tarun Kapoor, Ph.D., an expert on the centrosome and on techniques for visualizing microtubules, collaborated with Hatten and her lab colleagues to create images showing these structures in extraordinary detail. Kapoor is head of Rockefeller's Laboratory of Chemistry and Cell Biology.

When the scientists looked at the cells with a spinning disk confocal microscope, the dye revealed a cage-like structure around the cell's nucleus. "Its li

Contact: Lynn Love
Rockefeller University

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