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NIH videos show new light on how neurons communicate

Science Signaling recently released short video clips documenting a previously unknown form of communication between brain cells. The videos (subscription required) could provide new insights into the way learning shapes the brain.

According to a National Institutes of Health release:

These newly recorded signals are emitted along the length of nerve fibers. Earlier research has documented the transmission of signals across the synapse - a gap between individual nerve cells, known as neurons. The new videos show that when neurons communicate, electrical signals emitted along the length of neurons stimulates nearby brain cells known as glia, or glial cells. As a result, the glial cells begin making a substance called myelin, which coats the nerve fibers and allows electrical charges to travel with greater speed through the brain's networks.

Other studies have shown that the process of myelination underlies learning and is crucial for the development of new skills.

The video above shows an increase in the transmission of light through the axons after they are stimulated to fire impulses. The increased transmission of light is caused by microscopic swelling of the axons, which reduces light scattering through them. The increase in light transmission is shown as a pseudocolored image, with warmer colors indicating greater light transmission and thus axonal swelling, according to the abstract.

Video courtesy Science Signaling

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