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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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ScienceShot: Lightning-Fast Recycling
4 December 2013 1:00 pm
A lot happens in the instant you yank your hand away from a hot stove. Your neurons fire, releasing hundreds of bubbles filled with chemicals called neurotransmitters (orange in artist’s conception above) into a microscopic junction called a synapse, which connects the cell to its neighbor. Then the bubbles reform (yellow), and the whole process begins again. Now it turns out the process is even faster than scientists thought. By genetically programming mouse neurons to fire in response to flashes of blue light, freezing them with liquid nitrogen at millisecond intervals, and photographing them with an electron microscope, a team of researchers has discovered that the whole thing happens in about 100 milliseconds—up to 200 times quicker than previously proposed mechanisms. Rather than using a protein to facilitate the process by building a scaffold for the vesicles, or another proposed mechanism called "kiss-and-run," in which vesicles merely "kiss" the inside of the first neuron, briefly merging with it and emptying their contents into the synapse, the researchers found that vesicles are fully formed, then recycled to form new bubbles only one-tenth of a second after they release their cargo into the synapse. This near-instantaneous recycling is likely what makes the nervous system so fast and its function so seamless, the scientists report today in Nature. They say studying the process could enhance our understanding of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.