Novel Study of Dopamine-Releasing Neurons in Forebrain May Impact Understanding of Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and Many Diseases Involving Movement Disorder

Scientists studying hatchling zebrafish fish have made a new advance in in understanding the brain chemical dopamine that influences movement. The team from the University of Leicester (UK) Department of Biology has examined the transparent hatchling zebrafish to gain new insights into the working of neurons in areas of the brain that are normally difficult to access. As a result, they have discovered, for the first time, both when and why the particular cells in the brain that affect movement are active. The new study was published recently online in an open-access article in Current Biology and will appear the February 2015 print issue of Current Biology. Senior author Dr. Jonathan McDearmid said, “Our research is aimed at understanding how dopamine, a neurochemical secreted by nerve cells (neurons) in the brain, influences neuronal networks in the spinal cord that control motor behaviour. “Our understanding of dopamine function is largely derived from the study of dopamine-releasing neurons that are located within the midbrain, a structure located near to the base of the brain. However, vertebrates, including humans, also possess a cluster of dopamine-containing neurons in the forebrain. Unlike their midbrain counterparts, these neurons extend projections to the spinal cord, a region that is dedicated to the production of motor behaviors (such as walking and swimming). We know relatively little about the role this forebrain population plays in regulating behaviour: the main aim of our study was to address this problem.” The Leicester team was able to overcome this problem by examining hatchling zebrafish which are transparent and lack bone tissue, which makes the brain accessible to study.
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