Electrical Activity Alters Language Used By Nerve Cells


By Sherry Seethaler


UC San Diego biologists have shown that the chemical language with which neurons communicate depends on the pattern of electrical activity in the developing nervous system. The findings suggest that modification of nerve activity could have potential as a treatment for a wide range of brain disorders.

In the study, published this week in the early on-line edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the biologists showed that, contrary to the prevailing viewpoint, neurotransmitters—the chemical language of nerve cells—and receptors—the proteins that receive and respond to neurotransmitters—are not specified by a rigid genetic program. Altering nerve activity during development determines the “mother tongue” nerve cells use to communicate. The study will appear in the print edition of PNAS on January 2.

“Most cognitive disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease, involve problems with neurotransmitters or neurotransmitter receptors,” said Nicholas Spitzer, a professor of biology and the senior author of the study. “If modifying electrical activity in the adult brain can alter neurotransmitters and receptors similarly to the way we have discovered in the developing frog nervous system, it could provide a promising approach to treating these disorders.”



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