Posted on Jul 04, 2019, 5 p.m.
The first complete wiring diagram of the nervous system of an animal has been assembled by researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine which was focused on Caenorhabditis elegans, and reveals some significant differences between the sexes of this species, as published in the journal Nature.
Lead author Dr. Scott Emmons marks this as a major milestone in the field of connectomics producing maps of the brain/nervous system to identify specific nerve connections responsible for various behaviors; some neurological and psychiatric disorders are theorized to be caused by faulty connections.
“Structure is always central in biology. The structure of DNA revealed how genes work, and the structure of proteins revealed how enzymes function. Now, the structure of the nervous system is revealing how animals behave and how neural connections go wrong to cause disease.” says Dr. Emmons.
“This hypothesis is strengthened by the finding that several mental disorders are associated with mutations in genes that are thought to determine connectivity,” said Dr. Emmons. “Connectomics has the potential to help us understand the basis of some mental illnesses, possibly suggesting avenues for therapy.”
Caenorhabditis elegans contain about 1,000 cells making up a simple nervous system with a few hundred neurons, this makes them one of the best models for understanding the human brain which is about a million times more complex. The first map of their nervous system was published by Dr. Sydney Brenner in 1986.
In order to create complete wiring diagrams of entire adult animals of box sexes, which includes all connections between individual neurons, synapses between muscle cells, and connections from neurons to muscle and other tissues specially developed software was used to combine new electron micrographs with ones previously used by Dr. Brenner.
“While the synaptic pathways in the two sexes are substantially similar, a number of the synapses differ in strength, providing a basis for understanding sex-specific behaviors,” explained Dr. Emmons. “These connected networks serve as starting points for deciphering the neural control of C. elegans behavior. Since the roundworm nervous system contains many of the same molecules as the human nervous system, what we learn about the former can help us understand the latter.”
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