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Dances with Neurons

Understanding the needs of lab-grown neurons to better benefit neurological disease research

23 February 2023

Dances with Neurons

Like nervous performers, our nerve cells or neurons start out immature – they’re nurtured during development and perhaps ‘trained’ by interacting with other cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) – the swirling troupe of chemicals that surrounds our young cells. Trying to encourage lab-grown neurons to mature from a type of stem cell, researchers find it’s not enough just to have the ECM chemicals present, they have to move in rhythm with the neurons. Grown here surrounded by ‘dancing’ ECM chemicals (highlighted in green), this neuron (red) thrives. Researchers find the fastest jiving molecules work best, perhaps because they match up with the neurons’ chemical receptors, tiny arm-like proteins on the cell surface that move with the intensity of a flamenco flourish (although a billion times smaller and 1000 times faster). In the future, maturing neurons in this way may be several quick steps towards transplants to treat ageing-related illnesses like ALS.

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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