Updated on 26 July 2013
NIH study-Brief bursts of chemical energy coming from rapidly moving mitochondria tune brain cell communication
Singapore: Researchers at National Institutes of Health (NIH) have showed that brief bursts of chemical energy coming from rapidly moving power plants, called mitochondria, may tune brain cell communication.
"We are very excited about the findings," said Dr Zu-Hang Sheng, a senior principal investigator and the chief of the Synaptic Functions Section at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). "We may have answered a long-standing, fundamental question about how brain cells communicate with each other in a variety of voice tones."
The network of nerve cells throughout the body typically controls thoughts, movements and senses by sending thousands of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, at communication points made between the cells called synapses. Neurotransmitters are sent from tiny protrusions found on nerve cells, called presynaptic boutons. Boutons are aligned, like beads on a string, on long, thin structures called axons. They help control the strength of the signals sent by regulating the amount and manner that nerve cells release transmitters.
Mitochondria are known as the cell's power plant because they use oxygen to convert many of the chemicals cells use as food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main energy that powers cells. This energy is essential for nerve cell survival and communication. Previous studies showed that mitochondria can rapidly move along axons, dancing from one bouton to another.
The researchers used advanced microscopic techniques to watch mitochondria move among boutons while they released neurotransmitters. They found that boutons sent consistent signals when mitochondria were nearby.