The more we discover, the more questions we have

Only 20% of synapses (red) were observed to transmit dopamine. The rest (green) were found to be silent. Credit: Sulzer Lab/Columbia University Medical Center

Our brain has always been seen as a very complex system, from the very first time scientists identified it as the organ controlling all the rest, including thoughts.

In these last hundred years scientists have discovered a lot about the brain, including the fact that there are strong commonalities among brains of different species, and in the last 15 years we have seen an acceleration in discoveries as new ways to look at the brain were discovered and applied. 

Yet, rather than converging on a precise understanding any new door that opens up as result of new monitoring technologies is creating new questions.

This is the case for a research presented in an article on Nature describing the discovery made by Columbia University scientists  that used a new optical technique to track the communications between neurones. This occurs via synaptic junctions and what the scientists discovered is that just 20% of active neurones get involved in the communication exchanging dopamine. 80% remain silent.

Are these synapses useless? Unlikely. One of the hypotheses under consideration is that these synapses are a mechanism of information coding.

Now scientists are turning to other neurotransmitters to see how synapses behave. The goal is to gain a better understanding on the role of synapses and neurotransmitters. We know that an alteration in the communication mechanism leads to disorders like Parkinson's disease, addiction and schizophrenia. Understanding can lead to therapy and cure.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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