The dialogue between neurons is of critical importance for all nervous system activities, from breathing to sensing, thinking to running. Yet neuronal communication is so fast, and at such a small scale, that it is exceedingly difficult to explain precisely how it occurs. A preliminary observation in the Neurobiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), enabled by a custom imaging system, has led to a clear understanding of how neurons communicate with each other by modulating the “tone” of their signal, which previously had eluded the field. The report, led by Grant F. Kusick and Shigeki Watanabe of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is published this week in Nature Neuroscience.
In 2016 Watanabe, then on the Neurobiology course faculty, introduced students to the debate over how many synaptic vesicles can fuse in response to one action potential (see this 2-minute video for a quick brush-up on neurotransmission). To