Neuromuscular Junction Mandala

Peripheral Neuron Mandala.jpg
Peripheral Neuron Mandala.jpg

Neuromuscular Junction Mandala

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This is mandala I created from this original image of "neuromuscular junctions" (NMJs) of motor neurons, places in the body where the axons of neurons (originating in the brain) meet muscle to form a synapse. Each blob in image is a synapse and they differ in kind. Messages from the brain that cause the muscle to contract and relax. The NMJ is only one example of many connections made between nerves and other parts of the body that result in a successfully functioning organism.

Neurons, or nerve cells, are specially designed cells that communicate using a variety of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Depending on the type of cell, specific neurotransmitters are designed to stimulate a response, assuming that a receptor is present.

At this junction, the motor neuron (labelled green here) meets muscle tissue at an axon terminal (magenta). The surface of the muscle fibre forms small ridged folds in which the end of axon to rests. Inside these folds are depressions with acetylcholine or glutamate receptors. The neuron forms synaptic vesicles that are filled with acetylcholine, glutamate or other neurotransmitters/peptides. They resemble small bulbs that will release the neurotransmitter when the muscle needs to contract.

The Drosophila larval neuromuscular system is relatively simple and its NMJs have been studied extensively as models for development and disease. They exhibit developmental and functional plasticity while displaying stereotyped connectivity, meaning that aberrations in their morphology can be used as a proxy for dysfunction. Since Drosophila NMJs are homologous to NMJs in the mammalian brain, these features make the Drosophila neuromuscular system an excellent genetic model for the study of the mammalian central nervous system.

My most recent work as a Research Associate uncovered what we believe to be a novel molecular mechanism underlying autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and schizophrenia (SCZ). We modelled the function of a family of presynaptic receptor that is essential for proper brain development and function in both flies and humans. Genetic mutations in these genes are frequently associated with ASD and SCZ and our data show potential for novel therapeutic approaches (paper in submission).

25x magnification. Confocal micrograph. Mandala effect generated in Photoshop.

(For aficionados, the green cellular component labelled here is a pan-neuronal marker (HRP), the pink is Discs Large (Dlg), a post-synaptic component.)


Imaged using a Leica TCS SP5 confocal laser scanning microscope, and with gratitude to my supervisor, Dr Michael Gordon (Dept of Zoology, University of British Columbia).

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