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Evidence that neurons prune only 'twigs' to rewire themselves

DURHAM, N.C. -- By using a laser microscope to spy on individual nerve cells in living mice, researchers have discovered that neurons' wiring remain largely stable, providing a solid scaffold to accommodate the challenges in their environment. Specifically, the scientists found that the neuronal branches called "dendrites" remain largely unchanged in the highly active olfactory processing region of the mouse brain. Such evidence suggest that dendrites in the adult brain form a stable background even in the face of ongoing changes that form part of everyday experience.

Besides providing a better basic understanding of the dynamic processes of brain rewiring, the researchers believe their findings might yield insights into such disorders as epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease, which are marked by aberrant neural circuitry.

Dendrites are the branches of neurons that support the multitude of interconnections by which one neuron triggers a nerve impulse in its neighbors in the intricate neural pathways of the brain.

The research was reported in the November 2003 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Lawrence Katz, Ph.D., and colleague Adi Mizrahi, both at the Duke University Medical Center.

"The brain faces two challenges in maintaining its functionality in a changing environment," said Katz. "One is to remain stable enough so that the basic things we need to do to interpret the world remain consistent. And the other is to continually adapt to the changing environment, which places a high premium on the ability to alter neural circuitry."

The brain is known to undergo large-scale wiring during embryonic development after such drastic events as a stroke or loss of a limb. However, said Katz, a central question in neurobiology is whether such dendritic alterations take place during the formation of long-term memories.

To explore the nature of such rewiring, Mizrahi and Katz stu
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University Medical Center
22-Oct-2003


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