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New genetic technique highlights the location of receptor proteins on nerve cells

13 December 2020

You're Spotted

Brain cells, or neurons, meet at busy junctions called synapses. Like hubs of chemical chatter, neurons on one side of a synapse pour in neurotransmitter chemicals to influence receptors – proteins on the surface of the neuron on the other side. Combinations of neurotransmitter and receptor can be excitatory (helping the receiving neuron to 'fire' an impulse) or inhibitory (blocking these impulses). Here a new genetic technique highlights a specific type of inhibitory receptor on this fruit fly neuron – green fluorescence revealing a distinctive criss-cross pattern, like fairy lights, although 10,000 times smaller. Now that researchers know where these receptors are, they can work to understand how patterns of different types of receptor work together to influence neuronal communication in the fly‘s brain. Eventually the technique will help to light up specific receptors on human cells towards spotting their role in development and disease.

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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