Recent research in how brain cells talk to one another may help treat anxiety and addiction disorders, as well as dementias.
Brain cells talk to each other through synapses, where molecules whose chemistry is interpreted as information are released and travel to the next cell:
When people learn or remember things, this signalling is strengthened. When communication between synapses goes wrong, circuits become broken. As more circuits are lost, this changes how people can think and perform everyday tasks. This is seen in cognitive disorders, such as forms of dementia and some mental health conditions.University of Nottingham, “Scientists gain new understanding of how brain cells talk – which could help in the treatment of mental health conditions and memory diseases” at ScienceDaily (November 19, 2021)
For information on what to do, the nerve cells depend on proteins whose information is encoded in them by the genetic material called RNA (produced by DNA). Researchers have learned that a methyl group/molecule added to one of the RNA bases “marks” the RNA message. That can influence the messages given to the proteins. The influence includes a message to just stop proteins from being produced:
This new study shows that RNA marking can be reversed at synapses and hence may act as a ‘synaptic tag’. The findings suggest, that if disrupted, this could cause synapses and nerve cells to malfunction by influencing the formation of toxic protein clumps.University of Nottingham, “Scientists gain new understanding of how brain cells talk – which could help in the treatment of mental health conditions and memory diseases” at ScienceDaily (November 19, 2021)
The researchers were studying brain tissue in the hippocampus, a key area in the formation of memories. Helen Miranda Knight explains the significance of her team’s findings “These genomic mechanisms involve methyl groups being put on RNA messages and importantly taken off when a synapse is active. The implications are very important for normal brain function but also for reversible psychiatric mental conditions such as anxiety and addiction disorders and early-stage neurodegenerative diseases such as dementias.”
The takeaway is that if a psychiatric disorder is caused by a faulty signal due to incorrect RNA messaging, it can be treated by correcting the signal.
The paper is open access.
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How complex is a single neuron in your brain? Put it this way: An artificial intelligence network did not do nearly as well.