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Silent Partner

Insight into neurons' roles at damaged junctions with muscle

26 March 2021

Silent Partner

Helping us move everything from limbs to eyeballs, muscles receive electrical impulses from our brains at neuromuscular junctions – but sometimes these fizzling connections are broken. Here researchers investigate how damaged connections self-repair – a form of neuroplasticity – in fruit fly muscle fibres (highlighted in blue) each served by pairs of neurons (green). Switching on genes that cause one of the neurons in each pair to die, they use live cell imaging to see how the 'partner' cell reacts. Some neurons spread out their branches – helping to restore impulses back to the ailing muscle – while others don’t compensate as much or at all. Researchers believe this may be due to chemical signals sent from a neuron to its partner as it dies. Finding out how and when these signals are sent in human brains, where neuron networks are far more complex, might one day help with treating of neurodegenerative diseases.

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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