New research: insights into nerve-muscle connections

two microscope images, one showing terminal Schwann cells from a mouse, the other showing the same cells from a human

April 2021: Our latest research shows that there are fundamental differences between mice and humans in cells found at the junction of nerves and muscles. This new knowledge is particularly important for the design and interpretation of future research studies.

A team from the Euan MacDonald Centre, led by Ross Jones and Tom Gillingwater, have published a paper revealing insights into how human nerves and muscles interact at sites known as neuromuscular junctions (NMJs).

In the work performed by early-career researchers Abrar Alhindi, Ines Boehm and colleagues, the team looked at human muscle biopsy samples down high-powered microscopes to visualise an important 'supporting' cell at the NMJ, known as the terminal Schwann cell. These cells play a key role in maintaining the health of the NMJ and are thought to contribute to diseases such as MND, but the vast majority of our knowledge of these cells comes from studies of rodent models (e.g. mice).

Interestingly, the new research shows that in humans, terminal Schwann cells have a unique anatomy and arrangement. This makes them fundamentally different from what has previously been reported in mice and other species. These insights will be important for understanding the differences in NMJs between rodents and humans, and also for the proper interpretation of future studies examining terminal Schwann cells in people with MND and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Related links

Read the scientific article in the journal Brain Communications (freely available): "Terminal Schwann cells at the human neuromuscular junction":

Investigator profile: Ross Jones

Investigator profile: Tom Gillingwater

This article was published on: Wednesday, April 21, 2021