The biologists said their findings demonstrate that dendrites, the nerve cell component that receive information from the brain, have the capacity to regrow after an injury, the State College, Pa., university said Thursday in a release.
Co-author Melissa Rolls, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, said she and her colleagues wondered whether dendrites could regenerate after injury as do axons, the component of a neuron that sends information to other cells.
Rolls said the question of dendrite regeneration hadn't been asked in the scientific community, except for a few limited-scale studies yielding mixed results.
Using the fruit fly as a model system, the researchers cut all of the dendrites in neuron cells.
"We wanted to really push the cells to the furthest limit," she said. "By cutting off all the dendrites, the cells would no longer be able to receive information, and we expected they might die. We were amazed to find that the cells don't die."
Instead, researchers found, the cells regrow the dendrites completely and faster than they regrow axons. Also, dendrite regrowth appears to be independent of axon regrowth.
"Within a few hours they'll start regrowing dendrites," Roll said. "It's very exciting-these cells are extremely robust."
Roll said the next step would be to look for markers for dendrite regrowth "so we can learn more about what's going on during dendrite repair."
"We don't even know in what scenarios dendrite regeneration might happen in people yet because no one has known that it exists," she said.
The findings will be published in the January issue of the Cell Reports.