Purkinje cells may not be as uniform in appearance and function as previously thought, according to a new study by researchers at SciLifeLab, Karolinska Institutet, KTH, Nagoya University, and Technische Universität Braunschweig. These findings may change how research on neurodegenerative disorders is approached in the future.
The Cerebellum, also known as the “tree of life”, guides activities such as performing smooth and coordinated movements but is also involved in a diverse range of non-motor functions such as cognition, emotions, learning and social interactions. A specific class of neurons called Purkinje cells are located in the Cerebellum, and a wide variety of different conditions such as ataxia and autism are connected with abnormalities in the organization of this part of the brain.
These cells are principal for cerebellar computations and were for a long time thought to be nearly identical – until now.
For the first time, an international group of researchers has been able to verify that different types of Purkinje cells have distinct characteristics and communicates extensively. Purkinje cells are in other words much less identical and uniform than previously assumed. The study, now published in PNAS, was conducted in collaboration with SciLifeLab group leader and senior author Stefania Giacomello (SciLifeLab/KTH) and Konstantinos Ampatzis (KI), corresponding author of the study.
“The Purkinje cells have traditionally been thought to be a homogeneous population of neurons. In our study, we demonstrate that these cells are from morphologically and functionally distinct types”, says Stefania Giacomello.
According to her, the next step is to dissect the Purkinje cells along with other cerebellar neurons using advanced molecular tools such as single-cell sequencing and Spatial Transcriptomics, which are available at SciLifeLab.
“We anticipate that the new datasets will reveal an exceptional structural diversity among the cerebellar neurons and show the evolutionary divergence and convergence of their properties among vertebrates”, says Stefania Giacomello.
Furthermore, she believes this to be a critical step in understanding cerebellar functions that extend from motor control to important non-motor related functions such as cognition, emotions, learning, and social interactions.
“This new architectural model of Purkinje cells revealed from our work will lead to a major shift in the neuroscience field and herald new investigations about the diverse nature of cerebellar neurons”, says Stefania Giacomello.
Photo: Stefania Giacomello and Konstantinos Ampatzis.