Building a brain and central nervous system (CNS) requires careful choreography to facilitate the multitude of messages relayed between specialist protein and cell ‘performers’ as an embryo forms. Soluble protein messengers deliver instructions to receptors on embryonic cells, prompting them to morph into one of a myriad of neuron types, and take up their correct position in the developing CNS. One messenger, BMP7, can instruct a cell to either morph, or as shown here, move. But how does it deliver two distinct messages? The answer depends on how much BMP7 is around. Rat spinal cord neurons (tagged green) without BMP7 are static (left). If grown alongside cells supplying BMP7 (in blue, right), they move (see the arrow). Blocking different BMP7 receptors on the neurons led these researchers to conclude that BMP7 concentration dictates which receptors accept the message. And in turn, which instruction – morph or move – is issued.
Written by Caroline Cross
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