Science

Mysterious ‘eyelashes’ on our brain cells may be related to our perception of time

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The cells of the striatum, which play a fundamental role in decision processing and temporal perception, are covered with long cilia, like all brain cells. However, once thought to be remnants of our primeval past, these eyelashes will play a much more important role than we thought. A new study has shown that in mice, the absence of these cilia impairs their perception of time and decision making. This discovery could revolutionize our understanding of brain function and become a potential therapeutic target for mental and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, etc.

The area of ​​our brain that controls impulsive decision making, voluntary movement, and temporal planning is the striatum. This small part, located under the cortex, will also play a key role in managing working memory as well as maintaining attention during learning. It does this by constantly integrating and processing new sensory information from the environment and by adjusting the timing of downstream motor responses.

People with mental and neurological disorders do share a common characteristic: they all experience a profound decline in their ability to adapt to environmental changes and to integrate and manage new information (a function normally regulated by the striatum). A direct consequence of this is that they cannot accurately judge the right moment to start or end a voluntary action (as opposed to a reflex action, such as when someone withdraws their hand upon contact with a hot object).

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“Successful functioning of working memory, attention, decision making and executive function requires precise timing and timing, typically within the millisecond to minute range,” Amal Alachkar, author of the new study and department professor, said in a statement. Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine (USA).

On the other hand, many cells of our body, including those in the striatum, are covered with cilia. If some of the latter in motion have the function of moving materials on the surface of cells (for example, lung cells), then those of the striatum would be immobile and would rather function as a kind of signaling links, detecting and transmitting electrical signals.

However, the exact mechanisms by which these cilia are involved in brain functions, such as regulating behavior in response to environmental stimuli, are still unknown. The new study, published in the journal Springer Link, aims to understand how striatal cilia may mediate the regulation of time perception, and possibly identify new targets for the treatment of behavioral disorders and various neurological disorders.

“Our findings could revolutionize our understanding of brain function and mental disorders in the context of the important task performed by these hitherto unrecognized organelles in the function of the brain’s central clock,” Alachkar said.

Mice fail to integrate new information

In an attempt to understand the role of cilia in striatal cells, researchers in a new study genetically engineered mice to remove cilia from their brain striatal cells. By subjecting them to various exercises (such as navigating a maze or recognizing different places and objects), the researchers then found that the genetically engineered rodents were unable to learn new motor tasks and exhibited repetitive motor behaviors as well as delays. in decision making.

Although the mice retained long-term memory as well as previously learned motor skills, they were unable to recall new environmental information (location and orientation) quickly enough.

In addition, we do not yet know whether these results can be transferred to humans and whether our striatal cilia have the same functions as those in mice. However, this discovery could open a new avenue in the search for treatments for pathologies that affect the brain and behavior. “Our results may open up new possibilities for effective intervention with cilia-targeted therapy,” Alachkar concludes.

Springer Link

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