AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 2, 2017

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For the First Time, Researchers See Structure that Allows Brain Cells to Communicate

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Study uses cutting-edge technique to image the process of neuronal transmission

For more than a century, neuroscientists have known that nerve cells talk to one another across the small gaps between them, a process known as synaptic transmission (synapses are the connections between neurons). Information is carried from one cell to the other by neurotransmitters such as glutamate, dopamine and serotonin, which activate receptors in the receiving neuron to convey excitatory or inhibitory messages. But beyond this basic outline, the details of how this crucial aspect of brain function occurs have remained elusive. Now, new research by scientists and the University Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) has for the first time elucidated details about the architecture of this process. Synapses are very complicated molecular machines. They are also tiny: only a few millionths of an inch across. They have to be incredibly small, since we need a lot of them; the brain has around 100 trillion of them, and each is individually and precisely tuned to convey stronger or weaker signals between cells. To read more, click here.

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