Nav: Home

Fooling nerve cells into acting normal

May 09, 2019

Nerve cells, or neurons -- specifically the "workhorse cells" involved in walking, breathing and chewing -- can adjust to changes in the body, but they never stop working unless there is an fatal injury. What exactly signals neurons to keep acting and operating normally has not been known until now. In a new study, scientists at the University of Missouri have discovered that a neuron's own electrical signal, or voltage, can indicate whether the neuron is functioning normally. If that voltage is absent, scientists say everything is "out of whack."

"Our bodies have no central control system to tell individual neurons they are functioning normally, and so the neurons rely on their own electrical signals to keep track," said David Schulz, a professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. "Without that electrical signal, the cell can't tell if it is on the right track, and this can lead to changes that ultimately cause problems such as spasms and seizures. For people that have various neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spinal cord injuries, this discovery could affect how they are treated to help reduce or eliminate such symptoms."

The study built on previous research by Schulz's lab and involved examining neurons in crabs. Researchers completely shut down a crab's nervous system and isolated neurons from their normal connections, activity and chemical environment. Then, they artificially augmented the neurons' reality.

"We fooled these isolated neurons into thinking they were acting normally by using a computer driven process to produce their normal electrical signal," Schulz said. "When we did this, there were very few changes in these cells, demonstrating that the cells thought it was 'business as usual.' It's like providing an artificial generator when the power goes out while you are waiting for the power to be restored."

The findings could inform future studies in people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. While there is no cure yet for spinal cord injuries, researchers say this discovery could provide doctors with a way to trick neurons into thinking the body is still functioning normally. This would allow some level of normal nerve function to occur following the injury, and the affected nerves could re-join the healthy nerves above the injury.
-end-
The study, "Membrane voltage is a direct feedback signal that influences correlated ion channel expression in neurons," was published in Current Biology. Joseph Santin, the lead researcher, was a postdoctoral researcher at MU during the study. Santin is now an assistant professor at University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Funding was provided by a National Institutes of Health grant (RO1 MH46742). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

University of Missouri-Columbia

Related Multiple Sclerosis Articles:

'Reelin' in a new treatment for multiple sclerosis
In an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS), decreasing the amount of a protein made in the liver significantly protected against development of the disease's characteristic symptoms and promoted recovery in symptomatic animals, UTSW scientists report.
Not all multiple sclerosis-like diseases are alike
Scientists say some myelin-damaging disorders have a distinctive pathology that groups them into a unique disease entity.
New therapeutic options for multiple sclerosis in sight
Strategies for treating multiple sclerosis have so far focused primarily on T and B cells.
Diet has an impact on the multiple sclerosis disease course
The short-chain fatty acid propionic acid influences the intestine-mediated immune regulation in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The gut may be involved in the development of multiple sclerosis
It is incompletely understood which factors in patients with multiple sclerosis act as a trigger for the immune system to attack the brain and spinal cord.
Slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis
Over 77,000 Canadians are living with multiple sclerosis, a disease whose causes still remain unknown.
7T MRI offers new insights into multiple sclerosis
Investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital have completed a new study using 7 Tesla (7T) MRI -- a far more powerful imaging technology -- to further examine LME in MS patients
AAN issues guideline on vaccines and multiple sclerosis
Can a person with multiple sclerosis (MS) get regular vaccines?
How to improve multiple sclerosis therapy
Medications currently used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) can merely reduce relapses during the initial relapsing-remitting phase.
Vaccinations not a risk factor for multiple sclerosis
Data from over 12,000 multiple sclerosis (MS) patients formed the basis of a study by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) which investigated the population's vaccination behavior in relation to MS.
More Multiple Sclerosis News and Multiple Sclerosis Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.