A New Discovery May Explain What Makes The Human Brain Unique

Mysterious new brain cell found in people

Mysterious new brain cell found in people

It tells other brain cells to quiet down but other than that, no one is quite sure what else it does. The newest of these surprises is a new type of neuron, with a rare rose-shaped appearance that gave the newly discovered neuronal cells the name of Rosehip.

Researchers have discovered a new type of inhibitory neuron present in human, but not mouse, brains.

The cells have not been seen in animals used in the lab and display "anatomical features never described in rodents", the paper says. So then, perhaps it's not surprising that the team didn't find any genetic hint of rosehip neurons in mice.

These cells were extracted from the top layer of the cortex, the most complex structure in nature.

Digital reconstruction of a rosehip neuron in the human brain showing bundle of nerve fibres around central cell body.

The scientists pointed out that inhibitory cells, similarly to the excitatory cells, are well-documented, both in the brains of humans and in the brains of other animals. Scientists studying brain diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, autism or schizophrenia would also get a more clear understanding from this finding, he said. These "rosehip neurons", were found in the uppermost layer of the cortex, which is home to many different types of neurons that inhibit the activity of other neurons. The samples were from the neocortex, the portion of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking.

A scientist named Gábor Tamás and members of his lab were studying brain cells called inhibitory neurons, which act like the brakes in a auto. For one thing, "it throws some doubt on the ability to use the mouse to study certain elements of human function and disease", Lein says. Several other neurons have been claimed earlier to be unique to humans but have been later found in other species he explained. And when they attach to other cells, they latch onto a specific region, which may indicate they're somehow involved in information flow.

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Looking at the position, anatomy, and genes activated by the cells allowed the researchers to categorise them into 10 subtypes of what's called a GABAergic interneuron.

In a press release, Gábor Tamás, a neuroscientist at the University of Szeged in Szeged, Hungary, who was involved in the study, described this by comparing inhibitory neurons to brakes on a vehicle.

"This particular cell type - or vehicle type - can stop at places other cell types cannot stop", Tamás said.

Ongoing efforts to inventory all the cell types in the human brain may well turn up similar discoveries in future, Gordon adds.

The researchers' next step is to look for rosehip neurons in other parts of the brain, and to explore their potential role in brain disorders.

Thanks to the ease with which they can be raised, their quick breeding cycles, and short life times, mice make for a good starting point in neurological studies.

"Our brains are not just enlarged mouse brains", said Trygve Bakken, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Scientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and an author on the study. From identifying the brain cells responsible for particular functions to using stem cells to stimulate tissue healing, it seems there is no limit to what the science can do today. "But what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the capacity and the output of our brain". Note: material may have been edited for length and content.

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