axon growth

Growing New Neurons

Neurons are specialized cells whose job is to send and receive information in the brain and nervous system. As they grow, neurons extend a single transmission cable — called an axon — from one side of the cell. At the same time, they deploy a set of antennae — called dendrites — on the other side, which allow electrical signals to pass from one neuron to another. 

Using molecular spies that report on biochemical processes inside of living cells, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine were able to observe how the spatial distribution of a key molecule, cyclic AMP, changes during axon growth. Their study is published February 13 by Nature Chemical Biology.

“Our study is the first to show that developmental changes in cyclic AMP gradients determine how rapidly a neuron grows its axon,” said senior author Jin Zhang, PhD, professor of pharmacology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “By perturbing these gradients, we were even able to make younger neurons grow longer axons and look more like mature neurons, which may help in developing treatments to regenerate injured or damaged nerves.”

Pictured: False-color image of a developing neuron grown in culture for five days, showing a single axon extending downward from the left side of the cell and numerous dendrites protruding from the cell body