Road and rail networks need downtime for maintenance but if the same were true of our nervous system, it would throw our senses, thought processes and movements into chaos. We're only just beginning to understand how billions of nerve cells, or neurons, constantly renew their internal components without disrupting the electrical signals flashing between them. Scientists have recently developed a theoretical model based on our knowledge of neurons in humans and other animals – such as the crab neuron pictured, false-coloured to show its structure. The model showed how a neuron could function normally during maintenance if it had an internal ‘gauge’ that monitored electrical activity and controlled it via the cell’s ion channels – tiny gateways that allow charged particles to pass across the cell’s surface. A range of disorders was also predicted and this could help us develop new therapies in the future.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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