Study Reveals Function of Little-understood Synapse in the Brain
Published:19 Feb.2024    Source:Oregon Health & Science University
New research from Oregon Health & Science University for the first time reveals the function of a little-understood junction between cells in the brain that could have important treatment implications for conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer's disease, to a type of brain cancer known as glioma.
Until that point, synapses in the brain had been known only to carry neurotransmitters between neurons, so the discovery of a synapse between neurons and OPCs came as a revelation. Scientists tackled the problem by using single-cell imaging of live tissue in zebrafish, whose transparent bodies enable researchers to see the inner workings of their central nervous system in real time. Using powerful new tools in imaging, pharmacology and gene editing, researchers were able to use neuron-OPC synapses to predict the timing and location of the formation of myelin.

Oligodendrocyte precursor cells comprise about 5% of all cells in the brain -- meaning the synapses they form with neurons could be relevant to many disease conditions, including the formation of cancerous tumors. By demonstrating the basic function of the synapse between neurons and OPCs, the study may lead to new methods of regulating OPC function to alter disease progression.