Home Science & Technology A chemical for the brain helps neurons know when to start moving

A chemical for the brain helps neurons know when to start moving


By brainwashing, neuromodulators “allow you to more or less in the same way or at the same time control the excitability of a large area of ​​the brain”. Eva Mardera neurologist from Brandeis University, widely recognized her groundbreaking research on neuromodulators in the late 1980s. “You’re basically creating either a local brainwashing, or a more advanced brainwashing that simultaneously changes the state of a large number of networks.”

The potent effect of neuromodulators means that abnormal levels of these chemicals can lead to many human diseases and mood disorders. But within their optimum levels, neuromodulators are similar to secret puppets that hold brain strings, endlessly form chains, and change activity patterns at any time, which may be most adaptive to the body.

“Neuromodulatory system [is] the most brilliant hack you can imagine, ”he said Mac Shine, a neurobiologist from the University of Sydney. “Because you’re sending a very, very diffused signal … but the effects are clear.”

Changing brain states

Over the past few years, a surge in technological advances has paved the way for neuroscience to go beyond research into neuromodulators in small circuits to research that examines the whole brain in real time. They are made possible by a new generation of sensors that modify metabotropic neuronal receptors, causing them to light up when a certain neuromodulator hits them.

Researcher Yulong Lee from Peking University in Beijing has developed a series of sensors that promote research into neuromodulators and their effects.Photo: Tianjun Jun Zhao

Laboratory with Yulun Lee at Peking University in Beijing have developed many of these sensors, starting with the first sensor for the neuromodulator acetylcholine in 2018. The team’s job is to “use nature’s design” and use the fact that these receptors have already evolved to skillfully detect these molecules, Lee said.

Jessica CardinA neurologist at Yale University calls recent research using these sensors “the tip of the iceberg where this huge wave of people who use all of these tools will be.”

У paper Hosted in 2020 on the bioarxiv.org preprint server, Carden and her colleagues were the first to use the Lee sensor to measure acetylcholine throughout the cerebral cortex in mice. As a neuromodulator, acetylcholine regulates attention and shifts brain states associated with arousal. It has been widely believed that acetylcholine has always increased alertness, making neurons more independent of activity in their circuits. Cardin’s team found this to be true in small circuits with only hundreds to thousands of neurons. But in networks with billions of neurons, the opposite is true: higher levels of acetylcholine lead to greater synchronization of activity patterns. However, the amount of synchronization also depends on the area of ​​the brain and the level of excitation, drawing a picture that acetylcholine does not have a uniform effect everywhere.

Another study published in Modern biology Last November similarly overturned long-held notions about the neuromodulator norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is part of a monitoring system that alerts us to sudden dangerous situations. But since the 1970s it has been thought that norepinephrine is not involved in this system at certain stages of sleep. In a new study, Anita Lucy at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and her colleagues used Lee’s new norepinephrine sensor and other methods to show for the first time that norepinephrine is not turned off at all stages of sleep, and really plays a role in waking an animal when needed.

Next articleHigh-speed X-ray lasers reveal secret crystal structures of small molecules