Up close and personal with medium spiny neurons

Christiana and Nedyalka talking with Icnelia at the microscope, discussing 3D reconstruction of neurons. Image credit: Agnieszka Swiejkowska

Icnelia Huerta-Ocampo is investigating how information is transmitted and processed within the striatum, a brain region involved in movement control. Icnelia is working on medium spiny neurons, the most common neuron (specialised brain cell) in this region. As the name would suggest, these cells are characterised by spines all over them, where they receive inputs from neighbouring neurons and from distant neurons located in other brain regions. This takes place at a synapse, a structure where neurons pass electrical or chemical signals to another cell.

Recently Icnelia talked with Nedyalka Panova and Christiana Kazakou about reconstructing neurons in 3D from thin sections of brain tissue. Neurons are individually labelled so that their branches can be identified. For this, light microscopy is used (magnifying cells tens to hundreds of times). Then to obtain even more specific information, samples are prepared for analysis using an electron microscope (magnifying cells hundreds to thousands of times) to see the synapses where cells are actually sharing messages.

Spiny neurons light micrograph and neurolucida reconstruction

Medium spiny neurons have spines along their dendrites (branches extending from the cell body) where they receive inputs from other cells, seen here in a light microscope image (left) and a digital reconstruction (right). Image credit: Icnelia Huerta-Ocampo.

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