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Researchers Explore The Social Psychology Of Nerve Cells

Update Date: Jun 27, 2014 10:26 AM EDT

A particular neuron, the cholinergic amacrine cell, creates a "personal space" in much the same way that people distance themselves from one another in an elevator, according to a new research. 

The study also showed that this feature is heritable and identified a genetic contributor to it, pituitary tumor-transforming gene 1 (Pttg1). 

Researchers have been using the retina as a model system for exploring such principles of developmental neurobiology. The retina is ideal because the portion of the central nervous system lends itself to such spatial analysis, the press release added.

"Populations of neurons in the retina are laid out in single strata within this layered structure, lending themselves to accurate quantitation and statistical analysis," explained Patrick Keeley, a postdoctoral scholar in Benjamin Reese's laboratory at UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute, in the press release. "Rather than being distributed as regular lattices of nerve cells, populations in the retina appear to abide by a simple rule, that of minimizing proximity to other cells of the same type. We would like to understand how such populations create and maintain such spacing behavior."

"The regularity in the patterning of these amacrine cells showed little variation within each strain, while showing conspicuous variation between the strains, indicating a heritable component to this trait."

Researchers demonstrated that the expression of this gene varies across the 26 strains of mice. They added that there was a positive correlation between gene expression and regularity. 

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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