Sprouting neurons from the retina

In order for our nervous systems to work properly, neurons have to make billions of connections, both to each other and to target tissues such as muscles.  Setting up these connections – ‘wiring the brain’ – requires neurons to extend processes, often quite long ones, through a complex three dimensional tissue environment.  How do they know where to go, and what drives them on?

Aberdeen neuroscientists work at every level of this problem.  We study the processes that control how neurons from different parts of the brain are specified to do different jobs – how different classes of neurons are born, and how they migrate to where they need to be.  Then when neurons start to extend processes, we study the signals and signposts that guide them to their targets.  These signals may be chemicals released by other cells and endogenous electric currents within the tissues.  Understanding the processes that control how functional neural networks are set up can allow us to understand what goes wrong in some forms of mental illness.  It also allows us to develop new ways of controlling regeneration of these neural networks for treatment of the damage that occurs to the nervous system after injury, or during the progression of degenerative brain diseases.  This may involve reactivating latent stem cells in adult brain tissue, and using chemical and electrical signals to direct neural regrowth and induce brain repair