Introduction of Molecular Neuroscience
Molecular neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience that studies the structure and function of nerves at the level of biological macromolecules. It covers multiple topics such as molecular neuroanatomy, mechanisms of molecular signaling in the nervous system, the effects of genetics and epigenetics on neuronal development, and the molecular basis for neuroplasticity and neurodegenerative diseases. Neurological function research is one of the major issues in life science research, and a deep understanding of its molecular mechanism is of great significance for our understanding of the development of advanced cognitive functions of the brain and neurological diseases.
Research in Molecular Neuroscience
In molecular neuroscience, communication between neurons is usually produced by the transmission of neurotransmitters across the intercellular space. Using labeling techniques, the neurotransmitters can be located anatomically. Voltage-gated ion channels are a class of transmembrane proteins that form ion channels. Along the axon and at the synapse, electric signals can be propagated directionally. For now, the ion channels include sodium ion channels, potassium ion channels, and calcium ion channels. There are also ionotropic receptors and metabotropic receptors that can be used for cell signaling and communication.
Fig.1 Illustration of neuronal shape and spines: An exemplary pyramidal neuron from the CA1-region of the hippocampus with spine-studded dendritic extensions. (Südhof, 2017)
Unaddressed Questions and Current Topics in Molecular Neuroscience
In the past decades, significant progress has been made in the molecular neuroscience revolution. However, there are a series of fundamental problems that remain to be solved as we know little about the fundamentals of brain function. For example, the molecular origin and functional implications of neuronal shape remain enigmatic. There are thousands of spines on most neurons, but their functions are unknown. And we also don’t know how to turn a spiny neuron into an aspiny. At present, the brain is organized by circuits composed of neurons with specific properties, but the underlying concepts and neuronal identity remain ill-defined. Synapse formation determines the characteristic, and the synapse number, location, and properties determine the input/output relations of neural circuits, but how synapses form remains unanswered. As energy metabolism plays important role in many diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, neuronal and glial metabolism research is a key issue. What’s more, neuropeptide signaling, the function of microglia, and brain aging are also research hotspots.
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- Südhof, T. Molecular neuroscience in the 21st century: a personal perspective. Neuron. 2017, 96(3): 536-541.