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The human brain contains some 80-90 billion neurons or nerve cells (Azevedo et al., 2009). These neurons are the functional units of the brain. Their function depends on creating, maintaining and strengthening connections between other neurons. Connections between neurons are facilitated by special structures in the neurons called synapses.
A synapse permits the passage of electrical/chemical signals to the neighbouring neuron thereby establishing a connection. A complex network of such synapses and connections constitutes the brain. How this network matures during brain development was not understood.
Now, researchers from Canada and the USA have shed some light on brain development from birth to adulthood. They used a model worm and electron microscopy to reveal the details. The results of their research were published in the journal Nature (Witvliet et al., 2021). In this report, FROMTBOT summarises their key findings for you.
What are the principles that govern the development of the brain?
The researchers used Caenorhabditis elegans (a tiny worm) as a model system to study neuron connections during brain development. They used a special form of electron microscopy where serial, ultra-thin sections of the worm’s brain were imaged. This allowed them to reconstruct the whole brain in a detailed fashion. The reconstruction was performed in 8 genetically identical worms. They then measured the number of synapses and connections between neurons in the brains at various stages of development.
The lead author of the study Dr. Mei Zhen said in a press release, “This is the first time that an entire brain’s structure is deduced and compared across developmental stages, from birth to adulthood.”
“These new findings have powerful implications for the fundamental rules that allow the brain’s developmental maturation to take place,” she added.