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Healthy Brain Development May Be a Matter of Timing

Study in worms finds far-reaching effects for early connections between cells

FRIDAY, Jan. 7, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have found that brain cells need to create links early in their existence, when they are physically close together, in order to ensure successful brain-wide connections throughout life.

These far-reaching connections enable communication between the right and left sides of the brain and integrate various types of information, such as vision and sound. Previous research has shown that changes in the number of connections are associated with developmental brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

In the new study, researchers at Newcastle University in England looked at the connectivity patterns of nerve cells in roundworms. They found that when two nerve cells develop close together, they form a connection that is maintained when the cells grow apart as the worm grows.

"You can draw parallels with childhood friendships carrying on into adulthood," Marcus Kaiser, a study author, said in a university news release. "For example, two children living close to each other could become friends through common activities like school or playing at the park. The friendship can last even if one of them moves further away, while beginning a lasting friendship with someone already far away is much more difficult."

The study was published online Jan. 6 in PLoS Computational Biology.

"Although it's too early for this research to have direct clinical applications, it adds to our understanding of the structural changes in the brain and raises some interesting questions as to how these connections can become faulty," fellow author Sreedevi Varier said in the news release. "In further studying this mechanism, we may eventually contribute towards insights into the diagnosis and possibly the treatment of patients with epilepsy and autism."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

SOURCE: Newcastle University, news release, Jan. 6, 2011
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