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Scientists Snap Together Molecular Building Blocks of Brain Computing

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view of an inhibitory synapse in 3D, illustration

Illustrated view of an inhibitory synapse in 3D.

Credit: USTC

Information processing in the brain depends on specialized organization of neurotransmitter receptors and scaffolding proteins within the postsynaptic density. Based on the proposed processing technique for in situ cryo-electron tomography, researchers from University of Science and Technology of China and Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences observed individual GABAA receptors and their organization on the synaptic membrane, enabling the brain's ability for information processing.

The in situ cryo-electron microscopy method preserves the cells in native states and has an order of magnitude of higher resolution compare to the super-resolution optical microscopy, said Tao Chang-Lu, postdoctoral fellow from USTC.

This image processing technique is able to automatically locate the membrane proteins in their cellular context. The researchers oversampled the synaptic membrane and classified all the sampled 3D images without any template.

The work represents the first nanometer-resolution observation at the inhibitory synaptic receptors and represents a critical step towards resolving the atomic details of the brain, said Z. Hong Zhou, director of the Electron Imaging Center for NanoMachines at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

The scientists describe their work in "Mesophasic Organization of GABAA Receptors in Hippocampal Inhibitory Synapses," published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

From University of Science and Technology of China
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