Information in a computer is quantified by the number of bits that can be stored and recovered. An important question about the brain is how much information can be stored at a synapse through synaptic plasticity, which depends on the history of probabilistic synaptic activity. The strong correlation between size and efficacy of a synapse allowed us to estimate the variability of synaptic plasticity. In an EM reconstruction of hippocampal neuropil we found single axons making two or more synaptic contacts onto the same dendrites, having shared histories of presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. The spine heads and neck diameters, but not neck lengths, of these pairs were nearly identical in size. We found that there is a minimum of 26 distinguishable synaptic strengths, corresponding to storing 4.7 bits of information at each synapse. Because of stochastic variability of synaptic activation the observed precision requires averaging activity over several minutes.
Progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) is a severely disabling neurological condition, and an effective treatment is urgently needed. Recently, high-dose biotin has emerged as a promising therapy for affected individuals. Initial clinical data have shown that daily doses of biotin of up to 300 mg can improve objective measures of MS-related disability. In this article, we review the biology of biotin and explore the properties of this ubiquitous coenzyme that may explain the encouraging responses seen in patients with progressive MS. The gradual worsening of neurological disability in patients with progressive MS is caused by progressive axonal loss or damage. The triggers for axonal loss in MS likely include both inflammatory demyelination of the myelin sheath and primary neurodegeneration caused by a state of virtual hypoxia within the neuron. Accordingly, targeting both these pathological processes could be effective in the treatment of progressive MS. Biotin is an essential co-factor for five carboxylases involved in fatty acid synthesis and energy production. We hypothesize that high-dose biotin is exerting a therapeutic effect in patients with progressive MS through two different and complementary mechanisms: by promoting axonal remyelination by enhancing myelin production and by reducing axonal hypoxia through enhanced energy production.
Current methods for studying central nervous system myelination necessitate permissive axonal substrates conducive to myelin wrapping by oligodendrocytes. We have developed a neuron-free culture system in which electron-spun nanofibers of varying sizes substitute for axons as a substrate for oligodendrocyte myelination, thereby allowing manipulation of the biophysical elements of axonal-oligodendroglial interactions. To investigate axonal regulation of myelination, this system effectively uncouples the role of molecular (inductive) cues from that of biophysical properties of the axon. We use this method to uncover the causation and sufficiency of fiber diameter in the initiation of concentric wrapping by rat oligodendrocytes. We also show that oligodendrocyte precursor cells display sensitivity to the biophysical properties of fiber diameter and initiate membrane ensheathment before differentiation. The use of nanofiber scaffolds will enable screening for potential therapeutic agents that promote oligodendrocyte differentiation and myelination and will also provide valuable insight into the processes involved in remyelination.
The E4 isoform of apolipoprotein (apoE4) is known to be a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Previous in vitro studies have shown apoE4 to have a negative effect on neuronal outgrowth when incubated with lipids. The effect of apoE4 itself on the development of neurons from the central nervous system (CNS), however, has not been well characterized. Consequently, apoE4 alone has not been pursued as a substrate for neuronal cultures. In this study, the effect of surface-bound apoE4 on developmental features of rat hippocampal neurons was examined. We show that apoE4 substrates elicit significantly enhanced values in all developmental features at day 2 of culture when compared to laminin (LN) substrates, which is the current substrate-of-choice for neuronal cultures. Interestingly, the adhesion of hippocampal neurons was found to be significantly lower on LN substrates than on glass substrates, but the axon lengths on both substrates were similar. In addition, this study demonstrates that the adhesion- and growth-enhancing effects of apoE4 substrates are not mediated by heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs), proteins that have been indicated to function as receptors or co-receptors for apoE4. In the absence of lipids, apoE4 appears to use an unknown pathway for up-regulating neuronal adhesion and neurite outgrowth. Our results indicate that apoE4 is better than LN as a substrate for primary cultures of CNS neurons and should be considered in the design of tissue engineered CNS.
We previously reported that autosomal recessive demyelinating Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) type 4B1 neuropathy with myelin outfoldings is caused by loss of MTMR2 (Myotubularin-related 2) in humans, and we created a faithful mouse model of the disease. MTMR2 dephosphorylates both PtdIns3P and PtdIns(3,5)P(2), thereby regulating membrane trafficking. However, the function of MTMR2 and the role of the MTMR2 phospholipid phosphatase activity in vivo in the nerve still remain to be assessed. Mutations in FIG4 are associated with CMT4J neuropathy characterized by both axonal and myelin damage in peripheral nerve. Loss of Fig4 function in the plt (pale tremor) mouse produces spongiform degeneration of the brain and peripheral neuropathy. Since FIG4 has a role in generation of PtdIns(3,5)P(2) and MTMR2 catalyzes its dephosphorylation, these two phosphatases might be expected to have opposite effects in the control of PtdIns(3,5)P(2) homeostasis and their mutations might have compensatory effects in vivo. To explore the role of the MTMR2 phospholipid phosphatase activity in vivo, we generated and characterized the Mtmr2/Fig4 double null mutant mice. Here we provide strong evidence that Mtmr2 and Fig4 functionally interact in both Schwann cells and neurons, and we reveal for the first time a role of Mtmr2 in neurons in vivo. Our results also suggest that imbalance of PtdIns(3,5)P(2) is at the basis of altered longitudinal myelin growth and of myelin outfolding formation. Reduction of Fig4 by null heterozygosity and downregulation of PIKfyve both rescue Mtmr2-null myelin outfoldings in vivo and in vitro.
Local supra-linear summation of excitatory inputs occurring in pyramidal cell dendrites, the so-called dendritic spikes, results in independent spiking dendritic sub-units, which turn pyramidal neurons into two-layer neural networks capable of computing linearly non-separable functions, such as the exclusive OR. Other neuron classes, such as interneurons, may possess only a few independent dendritic sub-units, or only passive dendrites where input summation is purely sub-linear, and where dendritic sub-units are only saturating. To determine if such neurons can also compute linearly non-separable functions, we enumerate, for a given parameter range, the Boolean functions implementable by a binary neuron model with a linear sub-unit and either a single spiking or a saturating dendritic sub-unit. We then analytically generalize these numerical results to an arbitrary number of non-linear sub-units. First, we show that a single non-linear dendritic sub-unit, in addition to the somatic non-linearity, is sufficient to compute linearly non-separable functions. Second, we analytically prove that, with a sufficient number of saturating dendritic sub-units, a neuron can compute all functions computable with purely excitatory inputs. Third, we show that these linearly non-separable functions can be implemented with at least two strategies: one where a dendritic sub-unit is sufficient to trigger a somatic spike; another where somatic spiking requires the cooperation of multiple dendritic sub-units. We formally prove that implementing the latter architecture is possible with both types of dendritic sub-units whereas the former is only possible with spiking dendrites. Finally, we show how linearly non-separable functions can be computed by a generic two-compartment biophysical model and a realistic neuron model of the cerebellar stellate cell interneuron. Taken together our results demonstrate that passive dendrites are sufficient to enable neurons to compute linearly non-separable functions.
Vestimentiferan tubeworms are marine invertebrates that inhabit chemosynthetic environments, and although recent molecular phylogenetic analyses have suggested that vestimentiferan tubeworms are derived from polychaete annelids, they show some morphological features that are different from other polychaetes. For example, vestimentiferans lack a digestive tract and have less body segments and comparative neuroanatomy can provide essential insight into the vestimentiferan body plan and its evolution. In the present study, we investigated the adult nervous system in the vestimentiferan Lamellibrachia satsuma using antibodies against synapsin, serotonin, FMRMamide and acetylated α-tubulin. We also examined the expressions of neural marker genes, elav and synaptotagmin to reveal the distribution of neuronal cell bodies. Brain anatomy shows simple organization in Lamellibrachia compared to other polychaetes. This simplification is probably due to the loss of the digestive tract, passing through the body between the brain and the subesophageal ganglion. In contrast, the ventral nerve cord shows a repeated organizational structure as in the other polychaetes, despite the absence of the multiple segmentation of the trunk. These results suggest that the brain anatomy is variable depending on the function and the condition of surrounding tissues, and that the formation of the rope ladder-like nervous system of the ventral nerve cord is independent from segmentation in polychaetes.
Following the initial acute stage of spinal cord injury, a cascade of cellular and inflammatory responses will lead to progressive secondary damage of the nerve tissue surrounding the primary injury site. The degeneration is manifested by loss of neurons and glial cells, demyelination and cyst formation. Injury to the mammalian spinal cord results in nearly complete failure of the severed axons to regenerate. We have previously demonstrated that the antioxidants N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) can attenuate retrograde neuronal degeneration after peripheral nerve and ventral root injury. The present study evaluates the effects of NAC and ALC on neuronal survival, axonal sprouting and glial cell reactions after spinal cord injury in adult rats. Tibial motoneurons in the spinal cord were pre-labeled with fluorescent tracer Fast Blue one week before lumbar L5 hemisection. Continuous intrathecal infusion of NAC (2.4 mg/day) or ALC (0.9 mg/day) was initiated immediately after spinal injury using Alzet 2002 osmotic minipumps. Neuroprotective effects of treatment were assessed by counting surviving motoneurons and by using quantitative immunohistochemistry and Western blotting for neuronal and glial cell markers 4 weeks after hemisection. Spinal cord injury induced significant loss of tibial motoneurons in L4-L6 segments. Neuronal degeneration was associated with decreased immunostaining for microtubular-associated protein-2 (MAP2) in dendritic branches, synaptophysin in presynaptic boutons and neurofilaments in nerve fibers. Immunostaining for the astroglial marker GFAP and microglial marker OX42 was increased. Treatment with NAC and ALC rescued approximately half of the motoneurons destined to die. In addition, antioxidants restored MAP2 and synaptophysin immunoreactivity. However, the perineuronal synaptophysin labeling was not recovered. Although both treatments promoted axonal sprouting, there was no effect on reactive astrocytes. In contrast, the microglial reaction was significantly attenuated. The results indicate a therapeutic potential for NAC and ALC in the early treatment of traumatic spinal cord injury.
Studying the function and malfunction of genes and proteins associated with inherited forms of peripheral neuropathies has provided multiple clues to our understanding of myelinated nerves in health and disease. Here, we have generated a mouse model for the peripheral neuropathy Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 4H by constitutively disrupting the mouse orthologue of the suspected culprit gene FGD4 that encodes the small RhoGTPase Cdc42-guanine nucleotide exchange factor Frabin. Lack of Frabin/Fgd4 causes dysmyelination in mice in early peripheral nerve development, followed by profound myelin abnormalities and demyelination at later stages. At the age of 60 weeks, this was accompanied by electrophysiological deficits. By crossing mice carrying alleles of Frabin/Fgd4 flanked by loxP sequences with animals expressing Cre recombinase in a cell type-specific manner, we show that Schwann cell-autonomous Frabin/Fgd4 function is essential for proper myelination without detectable primary contributions from neurons. Deletion of Frabin/Fgd4 in Schwann cells of fully myelinated nerve fibres revealed that this protein is not only required for correct nerve development but also for accurate myelin maintenance. Moreover, we established that correct activation of Cdc42 is dependent on Frabin/Fgd4 function in healthy peripheral nerves. Genetic disruption of Cdc42 in Schwann cells of adult myelinated nerves resulted in myelin alterations similar to those observed in Frabin/Fgd4-deficient mice, indicating that Cdc42 and the Frabin/Fgd4-Cdc42 axis are critical for myelin homeostasis. In line with known regulatory roles of Cdc42, we found that Frabin/Fgd4 regulates Schwann cell endocytosis, a process that is increasingly recognized as a relevant mechanism in peripheral nerve pathophysiology. Taken together, our results indicate that regulation of Cdc42 by Frabin/Fgd4 in Schwann cells is critical for the structure and function of the peripheral nervous system. In particular, this regulatory link is continuously required in adult fully myelinated nerve fibres. Thus, mechanisms regulated by Frabin/Fgd4-Cdc42 are promising targets that can help to identify additional regulators of myelin development and homeostasis, which may crucially contribute also to malfunctions in different types of peripheral neuropathies.
Vasopressin neurons, responding to input generated by osmotic pressure, use an intrinsic mechanism to shift from slow irregular firing to a distinct phasic pattern, consisting of long bursts and silences lasting tens of seconds. With increased input, bursts lengthen, eventually shifting to continuous firing. The phasic activity remains asynchronous across the cells and is not reflected in the population output signal. Here we have used a computational vasopressin neuron model to investigate the functional significance of the phasic firing pattern. We generated a concise model of the synaptic input driven spike firing mechanism that gives a close quantitative match to vasopressin neuron spike activity recorded in vivo, tested against endogenous activity and experimental interventions. The integrate-and-fire based model provides a simple physiological explanation of the phasic firing mechanism involving an activity-dependent slow depolarising afterpotential (DAP) generated by a calcium-inactivated potassium leak current. This is modulated by the slower, opposing, action of activity-dependent dendritic dynorphin release, which inactivates the DAP, the opposing effects generating successive periods of bursting and silence. Model cells are not spontaneously active, but fire when perturbed by random perturbations mimicking synaptic input. We constructed one population of such phasic neurons, and another population of similar cells but which lacked the ability to fire phasically. We then studied how these two populations differed in the way that they encoded changes in afferent inputs. By comparison with the non-phasic population, the phasic population responds linearly to increases in tonic synaptic input. Non-phasic cells respond to transient elevations in synaptic input in a way that strongly depends on background activity levels, phasic cells in a way that is independent of background levels, and show a similar strong linearization of the response. These findings show large differences in information coding between the populations, and apparent functional advantages of asynchronous phasic firing.