Researchers have shown in mice how immune cells in the brain target and remove unused connections between brain cells during normal development. This research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, sheds light on how brain activity influences brain development, and highlights the newly found importance of the immune system in how the brain is wired, as well as how the brain forms new connections throughout life in response to change.
Disease-fighting cells in the brain, known as microglia, can prune the billions of tiny connections (or synapses) between neurons, the brain cells that transmit information through electric and chemical signals. This new research demonstrates that microglia respond to neuronal activity to select synapses to prune, and shows how this pruning relies on an immune response pathway – the complement system – to eliminate synapses in the way that bacterial cells or other pathogenic debris are eliminated. The study was led by Beth Stevens, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
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