PerspectiveNeuroscience

Following the same nerve track toward different cell fates

Science  04 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6192, pp. 32-33
DOI: 10.1126/science.1257175

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Summary

The autonomic nervous system controls the activity of internal organs such as the heart, lung, and gut, maintaining homeostasis of body functions in response to changing external conditions (1). It is composed of two antagonistic branches, sympathetic and parasympathetic. The former is essential for adapting to activity (i.e., fight-and-flight), whereas the latter is important at rest. Sympathetic neurons form ganglia along the body axis; parasympathetic ganglia are distributed all over the body. On page 87 and page 82 in this issue, Espinosa-Medina et al. (2) and Dyachuk et al. (3) challenge current views on how the parasympathetic nervous system is formed. These ganglia arise from progenitor cells that migrate along nerve fibers to peripheral targets. Known as Schwann cell precursors, these cells had previously been thought to give rise only to non-neuronal cells. Moreover, the nerve tracks include the very nerve fibers that ultimately innervate the parasympathetic neurons once they reach their destination and mature.