Newfound Neurons

Researchers identify a new type of brain cell in male Caenorhabditis elegans.

Oct 19, 2015
Tracy Vence

WIKIMEDIA, NHGRIIn a species whose neural circuits have been comprehensively mapped, researchers at University College London and their colleagues have identified a new type of neuron. These glia-derived neurons, which researchers dubbed “mystery cells of the male,” or MCMs, are tied to sex-specific learning in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Researchers reported their finding in Nature last week (October 14).

Arantza Barrios of University College London happened upon MCMs while examining the neuronal distribution of the peptide pdf-1, Nature News reported. “I found it was expressed in a bed of cells that didn’t correspond to any previous description,” Barrios told The Washington Post. Pdf-1 expression was limited to sexually mature male C. elegans.

Finding a new set of neurons in a well-studied system “is a bit of a shock,” study coauthor Richard Poole of University College London told Nature News, which noted that the team next plans to explore  MCMs’ roles in brain sex differences and in learning. (See “Sex Differences in the Brain,” The Scientist, October 2015.)