Exploring the Role of Synapses and Neural Networks in Brain Health
Studies show how malfunctioning synapses may contribute to certain brain diseases
CHICAGO — Research released today demonstrates the importance of healthy neural networks for normal behavior and how malfunctioning synapses — the sites where neurons connect and communicate — may contribute to brain disorders. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2015, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
Today’s new findings show that:
- Experiments in a mouse model of schizophrenia suggest that the breakdown of coordinated activity between groups of neurons may underlie psychosis (Jordan Hamm, abstract 282.02, see attached summary).
- Disrupted synaptic communication in rats follows accumulation of a lesser-known neurotoxic protein that might contribute to Alzheimer’s disease pathology (Paula Pousinha, abstract 131.01, see attached summary).
- Lifelong memories may be stored in the structure of the perineuronal net, a mesh of stable proteins that encapsulates neurons (Sakhina Palida, abstract 391.04, see attached summary).
- Key support protein guides the formation of synapses at inhibitory neurons, which are necessary for normal social behavior in mice (Shawn Tan, abstract 572.15, see attached summary).
Other recent findings show that:
- Fingolimod, a drug already used for multiple sclerosis, improved performance on cognitive tests and preserved synaptic architecture in a mouse model of Huntington’s disease, and further study will explore whether the drug might benefit Huntington’s patients (Andrés Miguez, abstract 556.07, see attached summary).
“Synapses are the hubs of neuronal communication, and these findings demonstrate how even subtle disruptions at synapses lead to abnormal behaviors or disease states,” said moderator Valina Dawson, PhD, director of the Neuroregeneration Program and co-director of the Stem Cell Program in the Institute for Cell Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “The studies make strides toward understanding how synaptic health can improve brain health.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about synapses and neurological disorders at BrainFacts.org.