A type of "cellular bilingualism" - a phenomenon that allows a single neuron to use two different methods of communication to exchange information - has been discovered by University of Montreal and McGill University researchers.
"Our work could facilitate the identification of mechanisms that disrupt the function of dopaminergic, serotonergic and cholinergic neurons in diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's and depression," wrote Dr. Louis-Eric Trudeau of the University of Montreal's Department of Pharmacology and Dr. Salah El Mestikawy, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and professor at McGill's Department of Psychiatry.
Their results show that many neurons in the brain are able to control cerebral activity by simultaneously using two chemical messengers or neurotransmitters. This mode of communication is known as "cotransmission."
According to Trudeau, "the neurons in the nervous system - both in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system - are typically classified by the main transmitter they use."
For example, dopaminergic neurons use dopamine as a transmitter to communicate important information for many different phenomena such as motivation and learning. The malfunction of these neurons is involved in serious brain diseases such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's.
"Our recent research, carried out in part with Dr. Laurent Descarries at the University of Montreal, shows that dopaminergic neurons use glutamate as a second transmitter. That means they are able to transmit two types of messages in the brain, on two time scales: a fast one for glutamate and a slower one for dopamine."
The overview of discovery has been published in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience journal.