These neurons are not all alike. There are many tens of thousands of different neuronal cell types. Each neuron communicates with other neurons and typically does so through on average of a 1000 synapses. Together they form networks of cells that detect sensory information like sound and light, control our perception of it, and our actions in response to them. They control our memories, our moods and cognition. Although much of brain development is specified by the genetic blueprint in our chromosomes, the development of the brain is acutely sensitive to sensory stimuli and to stress during critical periods in development. Abnormalities in brain development result in intellectual disability, and neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
Many UCLA scientists have made important contributions to understanding how the brain develops, here are a few. Together these studies have established important principles of development and uncovered the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying circuit formation.
De Robertis and his colleagues uncovered the biochemical mechanisms occurring early in development that specify which cells in the early embryo will give rise to the brain.
Novitch has recently applied advances in stem cell biology to use this knowledge to produce different types of neurons and to genetically manipulate them to understand and treat disease.
Zipursky and his colleagues have identified molecular labels on cells that act as part of molecular bar codes specifying the patterns of connections between different neurons.
Trachtenberg has uncovered mechanisms by which an animal’s experience sculpts the patterns of connections of neurons in early postnatal development.