The control of dendritic branching by mitochondria
A fundamental difference between neurons in real brains and those in artificial neural networks is the way the neurons in each are connected. In artificial nets, the synapses between neurons often have adjustable strengths, but the structure and scale of the input dendritic field generally counts for little. For real neurons, where a “connection” between cells is not just a synapse but rather a whole net unto itself, structure and scale are everything. The architect of this dendritic structure is neither a DNA code nor a spontaneous developmental physics that condenses order from a protein-lipid chaos. This structure is in fact the byproduct of competitive, yet cooperative mitochondria that administer that code to themselves and to their host to control its interaction with other similarly controlled hosts.
Reseachers from Osaku University have found that if mitochondria are depleted from developing dendrites in pyramidal cells, there is increased branching in the proximal region of the dendrites. In their paper last week in the Journal of Neuroscience, they also show that these dendrites grow longer. Since mitochondria distribute not just energy but also metabolites, proteins, and mRNAs throughout the cell, these results may be somewhat surprising. However depending on what manipulations have been done to alter the mitochondria, many things might be expected to happen to dendrites and the cell in general.