Studying how neurons [brain cells] grow and develop can be tricky. Try to nurture them in the lab and they have a tendency to shoot out in unpredictable and haphazard ways; not very helpful if you want to observe the intricate details of their development process. Now researchers have come up with a new option: encourage the cells to grow along set guidelines. Here, neurons are maturing on a surface covered in tiny braille-like dots. Each dot can be covered with different substances that promote, or hinder, growth. As the neurons (stained green and red) spread, scientists can closely monitor how they respond to the different molecules on the dots, giving a very clear and specific indication of which molecules promote what behaviours. That could mean a simple way to see how new treatments for conditions such as autism and schizophrenia affect the misbehaving cells in our brain.
Written by Anthony Lewis
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.