One of the most intriguing questions about the human brain is also one of the most difficult for neuroscientists to answer: What sets our brains apart from those of other animals? "We really don't understand what makes the human brain special," said Ed Lein, PhD, Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. "Studying the differences at the level of cells and circuits is a good place to start, and now we have new tools to do just that." In a new study published online on August 27, 2018 in Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Lein and his colleagues reveal one possible answer to that difficult question. The article is titled “Transcriptomic and Morphophysiological Evidence for a Specialized Human Cortical Gabaergic Cell Type.” The research team, co-led by Dr. Lein and Gábor Tamás, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Szeged in Szeged, Hungary, has uncovered a new type of human brain cell that has never been seen in mice or other well-studied laboratory animals. Dr. Tamás and University of Szeged doctoral student Eszter Boldog called these new cells "rosehip neurons" – because, to them, the dense bundle each brain cell's axon forms around the cell's center looks just like a rose after it has shed its petals, he said. The newly discovered cells belong to a class of neurons known as inhibitory neurons, which put the brakes on the activity of other neurons in the brain. The study hasn't proven that this special brain cell is unique to humans. But the fact that the special neuron doesn't exist in rodents is intriguing, adding these cells to a very short list of specialized neurons that may exist only in humans or only in primate brains.
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