In vivo imaging of neuronal growth and connectivity during activity-dependent learning within the developing brain – exploring the link between morphology and function

In development, neurons form complex connections within the brain that ultimately determine how you think, how you feel, how you act and how your body communicates with itself. In the past, researchers believed that our genes were the main determinants of brain development. Now an increasing number of studies show that conditions in our surroundings can influence our internal brain plan during early life and in later years. One of the most interesting questions in brain development is whether the shape and structure of individual neurons is connected to the function that those neurons play within our brains. Using real-time imaging of the shape and structure of single neurons during development, Derek Dunfield is investigating how neurons grow and connect with each other and how external activity influences these connections. His studies include using external activity to modify the functions of neurons and see if this affects their structure. By developing a better understanding of the connection between a neuron’s function and its growth or ability to form brain circuit connections, Dunfield’s research could provide useful knowledge about how information is stored within our brains. The study of how external activity modifies both the structure and function of neurons may shed light on how aberrant brain circuits form and can lead to disabling brain disorders later in life.