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Secret Skeleton
31 August 2015

Secret Skeleton

Electrical messages fly around our bodies in lightning-fast chain reactions, flowing from one nerve cell (neuron) towards another down spindly branches called axons – like these from a mouse’s brain. Researchers using a state-of-the-art technique called stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) spotted something peculiar in these axons – patterns of lines running along the cell like sleepers in a railway track. In fact these are not lines at all, but tiny rings pictured from above. Made from a protein called βII spectrin, the rings are evenly spaced, providing the axon with an extra ‘skeleton’ to protect its neuronal signals and perhaps even helping to convey the messages themselves. Of course, there’s still much to be discovered about how the brain works, but techniques like STORM remind us that new secrets are being revealed every week as technology rapidly evolves.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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