Researchers trace spinal neuron family tree

LA JOLLA—Spinal cord nerve cells branching through the body resemble trees with limbs fanning out in every direction. But this image can also be used to tell the story of how these neurons, their jobs becoming more specialized over time, arose through developmental and evolutionary history. Salk researchers have, for the first time, traced the development of spinal cord neurons using genetic signatures and revealed how different subtypes of the cells may have evolved and ultimately function to regulate our body movements.

The findings, published in the journal Science on April 23, 2021, offer researchers new ways of classifying and tagging subsets of spinal cord cells for further study, using genetic markers that differentiate branches of the cells’ family tree.

“A study like this provides the first molecular handles for scientists to go in and study the function of spinal cord neurons in a much more precise…
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