From Medical Xpress:

Intricate network of proteins that connects synapses, the sites of communication in the brain. Credit: Nikolas Schrod and Vladan Lucic, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

In a report published in the journal Neuron, an international team of researchers defined the makeup of the cellular structures through which nerve cells communicate with each other. These “synaptic clefts” are the small gaps between nerve cells (neurons) that relay information in the brain. Synapses, including the synaptic clefts, are formed rapidly shortly before and after birth. Mutations in the proteins that make up the cleft increase vulnerability to developmental disorders, notably autism spectrum disorders.

The research team set out to identify the molecular and structural organization of the synaptic cleft and the role of proteins that adhere to each other to hold the cleft together. To gain insight on the molecular level, the team examined the synaptic clefts in mice by studying two of the synapse-organizing proteins. They employed an array of the most advanced imaging techniques available including tomography and imaging below the of light.

“By illuminating how are connected to each other, we are closer to understanding what organizational steps go awry in synaptic disorders that impair brain development,” said senior author Thomas Biederer, Ph.D., from the Department of Neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine. He is also a member of the program faculties in Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology, Cellular & Molecular Physiology, and Neuroscience at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences…

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