LONDON The mysterious and intricate process that determines how neurons in the brain and spinal cord wire themselves is beginning to be revealed. In 13 September Nature, Chad Cowan and Mark Henkemeyer from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Texas, USA have uncovered the communication signals that cells use to regulate axon pathfinding, which helps form the networks of neurons and synapses.

The authors have shown how chemicals called ephrins and their receptors (Eph) can communicate between neurons by controlling the structure of the cytoskeleton — the network of actin microfilaments, tubulin microtubules and intermediate filaments that governs the shape and spatial organization of a cell.

But what's curious about their findings is that they've provided further evidence that a phenomenon called reverse signalling — where a receptor can behave like a ligand and vice versa — is crucial to this process.

Cowan and Henkemeyer focused on...

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