Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Spying on Synapses

Coloured probes enable the complex protein activity at nerve connections –the synapses – to be visualised

29 October 2019

Spying on Synapses

Your brain is buzzing with millions of spidery connections that pass signals from one nerve cell to the next, known as synapses. Each synapse is constructed from hundreds of different protein molecules, ensuring that the correct connections are made so that the right messages get through. Problems with synapse proteins can lead to conditions such as schizophrenia and autism, but efforts to understand what’s going on have been hampered by the difficulty of studying multiple molecules within the same synapse at once. That’s now changed, thanks to the development of new coloured probes that can ‘paint’ many different synapse proteins at the same time so they can be visualised with a high-powered microscope, as seen in these images of synapses between rat nerve cells. The technique allows researchers to study different synapses at an incredibly detailed level and see the impact of genetic changes that are associated with neurological conditions.

Written by Kat Arney

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