Science Visualized

Visualization offers view of a nerve cell’s dispatch center

7:30am, June 17, 2014

A 3-D visualization of the structure at the tip of a rat nerve cell's axon, called the synaptic bouton, reveals the machinery that allows neurons to send messages.

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Brains run on constant streams of chatter. The roughly 85 billion nerve cells in the human brain converse by sending messages via molecules called neurotransmitters. These chemical conversations allow the brain to think, remember and feel, but the details of how those messages move remain mysterious.

To get a closer look, researchers led by Silvio Rizzoli of the University of Göttingen Medical Center in Germany created a 3-D visualization of the cellular machinery that allows a rat nerve cell to send a message. The new model, published in the May 30 Science, reveals the roles of proteins in the synaptic bouton, a structure at the tip of a nerve cell’s message-sending axon.

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