Building a working brain depends on complex interactions between nerve cells and their environment. Now, cutting-edge tools from both biology and physics are helping us understand how physical factors shape brain development.
How do you grow a brain?
We need to ask this question to understand how our brains work in normal life, and also how to combat disease when things go wrong. The answer lies right at the beginning of life, in the developing embryo, which is where nerve cells – the building blocks of our brain and nervous system – are first born.
To build a brain from scratch, the newly born nerve cells send out long protrusions, called axons, which grow towards cells elsewhere in the body. The axons are the body’s electrical cables, helping cells within the brain and nervous system communicate. As the axons grow, they follow well-defined paths and encounter different environments. This is like us following a route through a city: sometimes we have to go around roadblocks, and sometimes we walk on hard pavements or soft grass. The difference between us and an axon, though, is that we can see where we are going; but how does a small part of a growing cell manage to find its way through the body?
Head over to the SciCam blog to read the rest!