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Cilia in the brain may be busier than previously thought

The long-overlooked nerve cell appendage may help prevent obesity or aid communication among cells

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1:16pm, January 19, 2018
mouse nerve cells

COMING INTO THEIR OWN  Mouse nerve cells (red) grown in a dish each sport a hairlike filament called a primary cilium (green), which may have many roles in the brain. 

Nerve cells in the brain make elaborate connections and exchange lightning-quick messages that captivate scientists. But these cells also sport simpler, hairlike protrusions called cilia. Long overlooked, the little stubs may actually have big jobs in the brain.

Researchers are turning up roles for nerve cell cilia in a variety of brain functions. In a region of the brain linked to appetite, for example, cilia appear to play a role in preventing obesity, researchers report January 8 in three studies in Nature Genetics. Cilia perched on nerve cells may also contribute to brain development, nerve cell communication and possibly even learning and memory, other research suggests.

“Perhaps every neuron in the brain possesses cilia, and most neuroscientists don’t know they’re there,” says Kirk Mykytyn, a cell biologist at Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus. “There’s a big disconnect there.”

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