Researchers have produced the first complete model describing the role serotonin plays in the structure and development of the brain.

Also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), serotonin is an important brain chemical for the development, function and structure of circuits in nerve cells. The study published in The Journal of Neurophysiology.

"Our goal in the project was to close the gap in knowledge that exists on role of serotonin in the brain cortex, particularly as it concerns brain circuitry, its electrical activity and function," said Roberto Fernández Galán, Ph.D., an assistant professor from the Neurosciences Department at the Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine.

A complete description, from genes to behavior, of an animal model has been developed for the first time, according to Galán. The description is so complete it also touches on the network activity in nerve cells in the brain, which has been ignored in a lot of studies from the past.

Using high-density multi-electrode arrays in a serotonin deficiency mouse model, Galán and colleagues were able to assess and document activity in the nerve cells of the brain. Their work supports the key role of serotonin, which is maintained and specified by the Pet-1 gene. This specific gene makes sure that neurons, as well as networks and synapses in the cortex, function normally. It also ensures the proper development of brain circuitry.

Abnormalities involving serotonin have been associated with epilepsy, autism, anxiety and depression. By understanding more about the responsibilities of serotonin for brain function, this study offers possible contributions in pushing forward treatment development for these conditions.

More people may have heard of serotonin in relation to sleep problems instead of mood disorders, as low levels affects sleep cycles. The two concerns aren't completely unrelated, however, as depression may also lead to disrupted sleep.

By observing the brain on the circuit level, the researchers were able to gain insight on how the brain is wired and how sensitive it becomes depending on changing levels of serotonin, Galán added.

Alongside Galán as senior author, Nathan Kodama, an undergraduate student majoring in Physics, and Pavel Puzerey, a former graduate student, also contributed to the study, which received funding research from The Hartwell Foundation through the Biomedical Researcher Award.

Photo: Dierk Schaefer | Flickr

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