May 26, 2024
A High School Student's "Crazy Idea": Developing a Model to Predict Neurotransmitters in Neuronal Networks

A High School Student’s “Crazy Idea”: Developing a Model to Predict Neurotransmitters in Neuronal Networks

During an invigorating walk through the Berlin Botanic Garden in 2019, HHMI Janelia Research Campus Group Leader Jan Funke and his colleagues found themselves engrossed in a common scientific discussion: how to extract more knowledge from insect connectomes. These intricate wiring diagrams offer unparalleled insights into brain cells and their interconnections, yet they fail to reveal how the signal from one neuron influences the neurotransmitter release of neighboring neurons in the network.

Funke and his team pondered the possibility of employing data from earlier experiments identifying the neurotransmitters released from specific neurons to forecast the neurotransmitters released from other neurons within the connectome. Neurotransmitters serve as the primary means of communication between neurons, with distinct chemicals responsible for various signals.

Although the human eye cannot distinguish synapses on neurons where different neurotransmitters are released, a computer model might be able to discern the difference. Funke and his team were initially uncertain, but they believed it was worth exploring this intriguing possibility.

“We have the data, I suppose we could try,” Funke recalled. “We weren’t particularly optimistic.”

A high school student, intrigued by this “crazy idea,” approached Funke with a proposal to collaborate on the project. Together, they embarked on an exciting journey to develop a model that could predict neurotransmitter release in neuronal networks based on existing data. Their initial skepticism gave way to anticipation as they delved deeper into the complexities of neural communication.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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