Magazine article Science News

Cell Voltage Molds Developing Brain Tweaking Electric Charge Fixed Defects in Frog Embryos

Magazine article Science News

Cell Voltage Molds Developing Brain Tweaking Electric Charge Fixed Defects in Frog Embryos

Article excerpt

A little electricity goes a long way in shaping the growing brain. The electric charge across cell membranes directs many aspects of brain development, scientists report in the March 11 Journal of Neuroscience. Harnessing these charges could eventually allow scientists to fix birth defects or grow new tissue.

By tinkering with the voltage in cell membranes of developing African clawed frogs, researchers found that the electric charge, also called membrane potential, plays a role in how big the brain grows and what kind of tissues developing cells grow into.

The work "highlights the importance of membrane potential and its role in development," says Simon Perathoner, a developmental biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen, Germany.

All cells have electrical activity in their membranes. "Cells use this electrical activity to communicate with each other in making decisions about growth," says study coauthor Michael Levin, a developmental biologist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "For the first time here, we also show that these bioelectrical signals are used to determine the size and location of the brain itself."

Levin and his colleagues stained developing embryos with dyes that glow more or less intensely depending on variations in electric charge in cell membranes. The researchers then flipped on or off genes that control cell growth by inducing the growth of tiny structures called ion channels in cell membranes. …

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