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Scientists analysed connection between nerve and muscle cells to progress on movement disorders

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Posted December 1, 2017

Human body is like a complex robotic system. Every part is related to another and damaging one will most likely affect others. This is what we know. However, it still doesn‘t make a complete sense that movement disorders work the way they do. Now a team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, discovered new links between nerve and muscle cells.

Interestingly, aging does not seem to have a significant effect on the health of neuromuscular junctions. Image credit: MarkBuckawicki via Wikimedia

Human nervous system is not fully understood yet. That is one of the reasons why some conditions are still very hard to treat. However, this new discovery of the links between nerve and muscle cells shed new light onto how entire nervous system works in the human body. In school we learn that a signal travels from the brain through the nerves and into muscles where they tell them to contract. But how does that signal go from the nerves and into the muscles?

Scientists looked into the connection between cells, known as neuromuscular junctions, through which electric and chemical impulses are transferred. In such conditions as motor neurone disease these connections break down and the messages can’t pass with the same efficiency. As a result, reflexes and motor function deteriorate significantly and very quickly. Scientists looked into 3000 of these cell connections, using cutting-edge imaging techniques.

Professor Tom Gillingwater, one of the researchers, said: “Together our findings provide unique insights into the structure of the human nervous system, identifying features that set us apart from other mammals. Our next steps will be to use these vital insights to understand how the NMJ breaks down in human patients with neuromuscular conditions such as motor neurone disease”.

Comparison of human neuromuscular junctions with the ones in mice revealed that our connections are much smaller and frailer than those found in other mammals. This could mean that they are also more vulnerable. However, scientists also made an interesting discovery – age does not affect the health of the neuromuscular junctions.

This will have significant implications on further studies, researching progression of diseases affecting the motor function. Furthermore, it is also important in terms of aging people. They do face difficulty walking and weaker reflexes, but that is rarely related with NMJs. However, to know more, scientists will have to continue their research.

Source: University of Edinburgh

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