From MPG: “Visualization of newly formed synapses with unprecedented resolution”

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Max Planck Gesellschaft

August 12, 2016 [Just found this in social media.]
Won Chan Oh, PhD
Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, FL 33458, USA

Hyungbae Kwon, PhD
Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, FL 33458, USA

Jennifer Gutiérrez
Head of Scientific Communications
Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, FL 33458, USA

Optogenetics and 2-photon-microscopy enable scientists to ’see’ how synapses are formed in real time.
© Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Florida-based Max Planck researchers optimize a spatiotemporally controlled method to induce and visualize synapse formation in cortical neurons

The Kwon Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Neuroscience, Florida, has identified mechanistic and functional elements that govern synapse formation and have established new insights about how synapses are formed in cortical neurons in early postnatal stages.

Proper cell-to-cell connection is a fundamental mechanism for normal brain function; abnormal connections result in various forms of brain disorders or death. Synapses are the functional connections between neurons. They are either excitatory or inhibitory depending on the type of influence they initiate. The spatial arrangement of synapses has a critical role in neuronal function, but the rules that govern this precise synaptic localization remain unknown. Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience researchers have now identified mechanistic and functional elements that govern synapse formation and have established new insights about how synapses are formed in cortical neurons in early postnatal stages.

Advancing our understanding of how proper connections are formed in the brain

The formation of excitatory and inhibitory synapses between neurons during early development gives rise to the neuronal networks that enable sensory and cognitive functions in humans. Inhibitory synapses decrease the likelihood of the firing action potential of a cell, while excitatory synapses increase its likelihood. Remarkably, both excitatory and inhibitory synapses are formed on dendrites of cortical neurons with high temporal and spatial precision, and it is believed that the spatial arrangement of synapses determines the functional consequences of excitation and inhibition of neuronal activities. However, studying the general mechanisms of synapse formation and distribution in dendrites has been challenging due to a lack of reliable methods that trigger and monitor synapse formation.

In their August publication in Science, Max Planck Florida researchers Won Chan Oh and Hyung-Bae Kwon describe how they precisely induced and visualized the formation of new synapses in real time in live animals. By using fine-scale optical techniques, they demonstrated that the local release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, induces both inhibitory and excitatory synapse formation in the developing mouse cortex. The induction of synapses required signaling through GABAA receptors and voltage-gated calcium channels and the newly formed synaptic structures rapidly gain functions.

Future directions

The scientists optimized a spatiotemporally controlled method that induces and visualizes the formation of inhibitory and excitatory synapses in cortical neurons in vitro and in vivo. According to Oh, these findings suggest a model in which GABA is the common molecule that sets the balance between inhibitory and excitatory synaptic contacts in early postnatal stages. “Given that abnormal synapse formation causes various neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy, understanding activity-dependent mechanisms of initial synapse formation will be important for developing new therapeutic strategies for these conditions,” explained Kwon.

See the full article here .

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The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (German: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e. V.; abbreviated MPG) is a formally independent non-governmental and non-profit association of German research institutes founded in 1911 as the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and renamed the Max Planck Society in 1948 in honor of its former president, theoretical physicist Max Planck. The society is funded by the federal and state governments of Germany as well as other sources.

According to its primary goal, the Max Planck Society supports fundamental research in the natural, life and social sciences, the arts and humanities in its 83 (as of January 2014)[2] Max Planck Institutes. The society has a total staff of approximately 17,000 permanent employees, including 5,470 scientists, plus around 4,600 non-tenured scientists and guests. Society budget for 2015 was about €1.7 billion.

The Max Planck Institutes focus on excellence in research. The Max Planck Society has a world-leading reputation as a science and technology research organization, with 33 Nobel Prizes awarded to their scientists, and is generally regarded as the foremost basic research organization in Europe and the world. In 2013, the Nature Publishing Index placed the Max Planck institutes fifth worldwide in terms of research published in Nature journals (after Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the US NIH). In terms of total research volume (unweighted by citations or impact), the Max Planck Society is only outranked by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences and Harvard University. The Thomson Reuters-Science Watch website placed the Max Planck Society as the second leading research organization worldwide following Harvard University, in terms of the impact of the produced research over science fields.