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Stanford study reveals growing neurons gain an edge by making connections

Purkinje brain cell
(Image credit: Andrew Shuster)
Mar 11 2021
Fellow, Research, Stanford, Students

A little competition is never a bad thing, especially when it comes to fledging neurons growing in the brain, finds a new Stanford University study.

In a first of its kind study, researchers led by Stanford biologist Liqun Luo used genetic experiments and computer models to shed light on two important steps of brain development in young mice: the growth of branching extensions on the bodies of neurons, called dendrites, and the connections that dendrites make with other neurons. Like biological antennas, dendrites receive incoming signals from other neurons via connections called synapses. Luo’s team found that the dendrites of growing neurons compete with one another to form connections with their partners, and the presence of successful connections increases the odds of dendrite growth.

The findings, published in February in the journal Neuron, reveal that competitive interactions matter when neurons grow and form circuits. They also get at fundamental questions in neuroscience, said Luo, the Ann and Bill Swindells Professor in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences.

“How does the brain get wired up? How do neural circuits form? These are big, unanswered questions,” Luo said.

Study co-led by Andrew Shuster, a 2014 SGF Fellow.

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