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MIT reports key pathway in synaptic plasticity

Cambridge, Mass. -- Scientists are keenly studying how neurons form synapses--the physical and chemical connections between neurons--and the "pruning" of neural circuits during development, not least because synaptic abnormalities may partially underlie many developmental and neurodegenerative diseases.

Several key molecules are involved in normal synaptic formation, but their interactions are not well understood. Now MIT neuroscientists have taken an important step toward solving this challenging jigsaw puzzle. They have pieced together a direct linear pathway connecting three molecules involved in synaptic formation, to be reported in the May 21 advance online publication of Nature Neuroscience.

"We haven't solved the whole puzzle yet," cautions Martha Constantine-Paton, a developmental neuroscientist in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, professor in the Department of Biology and senior author of the paper. "But we do now have a broader view of what happens in synaptic plasticity (adaptability). More importantly, we have an exciting model of this new pathway's role in development and learning. We hope this study might advance the study of normal, healthy brain development in people so that we may be able to prevent or treat many devastating developmental neurological disorders."

Constantine-Paton and her co-author, Akira Yoshii, a pediatric neurologist and research scientist in her lab, use the rodent visual pathway as an accessible model for studying how the signaling properties of synapses change during development and how those changes relate to structural changes in the brain and developmental milestones in behavior.

Specifically, they focus on a major developmental event-eye opening, which in rodents happens after birth and is followed by rapid increases in synapse strength and visual circuit refinement that follow the onset of visual stimulation. Previously, the authors had discovered a possible mech
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
21-May-2007


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