080210xf's Blog

L'X fragile sera vaincu | Fragile X will be conquered

Brain’s adaptability begins at single synapse

SFARI, Kelly Rae Chi

Researchers have uncovered an important molecular piece of a learning mechanism that occurs at the junction between neurons. The findings, which may help understand how the brain is disrupted in disorders such as autism, appear in the 24 June issue of Neuron1.

Disruptions in synaptic plasticity — the ability of synapses, the connections between neurons, to change in strength — have long been linked to autism and related disorders, such as fragile X syndrome. But much less is known about ‘metaplasticity,’ the degree to which synaptic plasticity itself can strengthen or weaken.

Researchers believe that metaplasticity is controlled by molecular changes occurring in entire neurons and networks. Although its exact mechanisms are still unclear, the new study shows for the first time that it can also occur at a single synapse.

Without metaplasticity, neuronal activity would go haywire during early development. Strong synapses would strengthen at a constant rate, making them less sensitive to stimulation, and weak synapses would get steadily weaker until they are eliminated. Tweaks to the levels of plasticity prevent these situations, creating stable yet flexible circuits that allow the brain to adjust to changes in the environment and learn new things.

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