Research in the News: Shedding light on mental illness, one brain synapse at a time

Yale researchers used light to probe the actions of the neurotransmitter GABA on single synapses along the branches of a neuron.  The work, appearing in the May 10 issue of the journal Science, provides new insight into the interactions of excitatory and inhibitory activity in brain cells — processes that appear to be disrupted in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

The accompanying photo shows a mouse cortical neuron in red, with dendritic branches that are studded with synaptic spines. Surrounding the neuron are inhibitory axons or fibers (labeled in blue) that are genetically engineered to release GABA when activated by light, a technique known as optogenetics.

Senior author Michael Higley and his team are interested in uncovering the basic mechanisms of synaptic transmission and how disruption to the process gives rise to neuropsychiatric disease.  To learn more about the work, view the journal Science.

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