Distinct molecular mechanisms can generate the same features in different neurons, a team of scientists has discovered. Its findings, which appear in the journal Cell, enhance our understanding of brain cell development.
The brain contains many types of neurons that control our behavior; each neuron has distinct features that allow them to exert different functions. In order to regulate their interactions, neurons communicate with each other using specific chemicals called neurotransmitters.
The focus of the research published in Cell were the neurons in the visual system of the fruit fly Drosophila, which is commonly studied in deciphering the basic principles that direct the functions of the brain.
Conducted in the laboratories of Professor Claude Desplan, the paper’s senior author, at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU’s Department of Biology, the study deployed a cutting-edge technology, Drop-seq, to sequence the genes expressed in each of tens of thousands of cells.
Their results showed that different neuronal types in the fly visual system can acquire similar features—specifically, expression of the same neurotransmitter—using different mechanisms.
More broadly, the researchers discovered that this dynamic applies to other neuronal characteristics, resulting in a deeper understanding of how complex brain tissue composed of hundreds of interconnected cell types can form.
The study also included Chaimaa Fadil, an undergraduate student at NYU Abu Dhabi at the time of the research and currently a Rhodes Scholar, Luendreo Barboza, an NYU doctoral candidate, and Rahul Satija, who is an assistant professor in NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and a core faculty member at the New York Genome Center.
This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01 EY017916), the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute (G-1205C), and by a National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award (DP2-HG-009623).