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Breakthrough as molecules shown to 'air-kiss' when brain neurons attract each other

University of Kent

All brain cells 'air-kiss' before they come together to form a final synaptic relationship, new research by University of Kent scientists has revealed.

The breakthrough study reveals that molecular signaling within the brain operates in a very different way to previously thought, with cells now found to use the same pair of molecules for both distant and close contacts.

The research, by a team led by Professor Yuri Ushkaryov of the University's Medway School of Pharmacy, may lead to a much better understanding of how neurons send messages to distant parts of the brain or other organs in the body, such as muscle cells.

It has previously been shown that brain neurons secrete 'attractive' or 'repulsive' molecules that diffuse away to allow neurons to grow towards or away from each other and thus organise connections. These are the 'messenger' molecules. It was thought that once neurons come close to each other, different molecules on the surface of cells facilitate recognition and adhesion.

But the study found that a neuronal cell-surface receptor that normally brings about adhesion could break away and travel some distance to another cell. Finding another neuron, it then tells it to grow towards the cell that released the message. The postsynaptic cell sends its presynaptic partner an 'air-kiss', before the two fuse in a final, 'eternal kiss' synapse.

Professor Ushkaryov said: 'Our breakthrough was to find that these brain cells use the same pair of duplicitous molecules for both distant and close contacts. This is exciting because it will have implications for our understanding of how neurons send axons to distant part of the brain or to other organs such as muscles.'

The research, entitled Proteolytically released Lass/teneurin-2 induces axonal attraction by interacting with latrophilin-1 on axonal growth cones (Yuri Ushkaryov et a) is published in the journal eLife. See:


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Notes to editor

Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, it is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities. Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

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