New technologies are allowing us to explore the brain as never before. We are entering a new era in neuroscience where our knowledge of the brain is beginning to match the urgent need to prevent and treat diseases of the brain.



Cell Metabolism

Why antidepressants do not work for everyone

In two recent editions of Molecular Psychiatry, Rusty Gage, first author Krishna Vadodaria and collaborators showed why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common treatment for major depressive disorder that increases the neurotransmitter serotonin, do not work in some patients. The discoveries could help lead to more personalized treatments for depression as well as other psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In the first study, published in January, the researchers created neurons from skin cells from patients whose depression did not show signs of improving with SSRIs. The team discovered that these patient-derived neurons became hyperactive when serotonin levels increased, compared with cells derived from healthy individuals or those who respond to SSRIs.

In March, a second paper by the group demonstrated that neurons from SSRI-resistant patients had longer neuron projections than did neurons from SSRI-responders, along with low levels of key genes involved in forming brain circuits.

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Read March News Release

Uncovering the evolution of the brain

What makes us human, and where does this mysterious property of “humanness” come from? President and Professor Rusty Gage, along with co-first author Carol Marchetto and colleagues, developed a strategy to more easily study the early development of human neurons compared with the neurons of nonhuman primates. The research offers scientists a novel tool to construct an evolutionary tree of multiple primate species to better understand the evolution of the human brain.

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How attention helps the brain perceive objects

Scientists have long theorized that attention to a particular object can alter perception by amplifying specific neuronal activity and suppressing the activity of other neurons (brain “noise”). Professor John Reynolds, first author Anirvan Nandy and collaborators confirmed this theory by showing how too much background noise from neurons can interrupt focused attention and cause the brain to struggle to perceive objects. The findings could help improve designs for visual prosthetics.

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PLOS Genetics

Guardians of the synapse: scientists identify a new role for nerve-supporting cells

Salk Professor Kuo-Fen Lee, first author Thomas Gould and collaborators found that a blood-clotting protein can unexpectedly degrade nerves—and discovered how nerve-supporting glial cells, including Schwann cells, provide protection from this degradation. The findings show that Schwann cells protect nerves by blocking the blood-clotting protein as well as other potentially destructive enzymes released by muscle cells. The work could have implications for diseases as diverse as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

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Like mountaineers, nerves need expert guidance to find their way

Similar to the dozens of Sherpas who guide hikers up treacherous Himalayan mountains to reach a summit, the nervous system relies on elaborate timing and location of guidance cues for neuronal axons—threadlike projections—to successfully reach their destinations in the body. Professor Samuel Pfaff, first author Dario Bonanomi and collaborators discovered how neurons listen for directions and simultaneously filter out inappropriate instructions to navigate tricky cellular environments.

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