In a study published online on July 3, 2019 in Nature, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York describe the first complete wiring diagram of the nervous system of an animal, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, used by scientists worldwide as a model organism. The study includes adults of both sexes and reveals substantial differences between them. The Nature article is titled “Whole-Animal Connectomes of Both C. elegans Sexes.” The article findings mark a major milestone in the field of "connectomics," the effort to map the myriad neural connections in a brain, brain region, or nervous system to find the specific nerve connections responsible for particular behaviors. "Structure is always central in biology," said study leader Scott Emmons, PhD, Professor of Genetics and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and the Siegfried Ullmann Chair in Molecular Genetics at Einstein. "The structure of DNA revealed how genes work, and the structure of proteins revealed how enzymes function. Now, the structure of the nervous system is revealing how animals behave and how neural connections go wrong to cause disease." Researchers have hypothesized that some neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, are "connectopathies," that is, problems caused by "faulty wiring." "This hypothesis is strengthened by the finding that several mental disorders are associated with mutations in genes that are thought to determine connectivity," said Dr. Emmons. "Connectomics has the potential to help us understand the basis of some mental illnesses, possibly suggesting avenues for therapy."
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