Scientists Discover New Method for Tracking Brain Cell Inhibition

Scientists Discover New Method for Tracking Brain Cell Inhibition

Scientists at Scripps Research have made a breakthrough in understanding brain cell activity patterns by developing a new technique to track when neurons shut off. This process, known as inhibition, is crucial for studying the normal functioning of the brain and investigating how it may go awry in various diseases and disorders.

Traditionally, scientists have focused on observing when different groups of brain cells turn on to understand activity patterns. However, understanding when and how neurons turn off is equally important. The team at Scripps Research has now found a way to study this process in a more trackable manner.

The technique, published in Neuron, utilizes optogenetics, a method in which cells’ activity can be controlled using light. By repeatedly activating and inhibiting brain cells, the scientists were able to measure levels and characteristics of different proteins and their modifications. They discovered that a protein called pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) undergoes rapid changes immediately after brain cells are inhibited.

PDH is involved in energy production when neurons are firing, but the brain conserves energy by rapidly shutting off this protein when cells are done firing. The researchers found that cells add molecular tags called phosphates to PDH to deactivate it. They were able to identify antibodies that specifically recognized this inactive, phosphorylated form of PDH (pPDH).

This discovery opens up new possibilities for studying brain cell inhibition and its role in various neurological conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease. By understanding how the brain’s “off switches” malfunction in these disorders, researchers may be able to develop targeted interventions and treatments.

Overall, this novel method offers valuable insights into the functioning of the brain and paves the way for further investigations into the complex processes of brain cell inhibition and activation.

FAQ

1. What is the breakthrough made by scientists at Scripps Research?
Scientists at Scripps Research have made a breakthrough in understanding brain cell activity patterns by developing a new technique to track when neurons shut off.

2. Why is the process of neuron shut off important?
The process of neuron shut off, known as inhibition, is crucial for studying the normal functioning of the brain and investigating how it may go awry in various diseases and disorders.

3. What method did the scientists use to track neuron shut off?
The scientists utilized a method called optogenetics, which involves controlling cells’ activity using light.

4. What protein undergoes rapid changes when brain cells are inhibited?
The protein called pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) undergoes rapid changes immediately after brain cells are inhibited.

5. How does the brain conserve energy?
The brain conserves energy by rapidly shutting off the protein PDH when cells are done firing.

6. What are the molecular tags added to PDH to deactivate it?
Molecular tags called phosphates are added to PDH to deactivate it.

7. What neurological conditions can be studied using this new technique?
This discovery opens up new possibilities for studying brain cell inhibition and its role in various neurological conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.

8. How can this research impact the future of treatments?
By understanding how the brain’s “off switches” malfunction in neurological disorders, researchers may be able to develop targeted interventions and treatments.

Definitions:
– Inhibition: The process of neurons shutting off.
– Optogenetics: A method in which cells’ activity can be controlled using light.
– Pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH): A protein involved in energy production in neurons.

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