Every single moment of our life we use our muscles – most of the time without even thinking about it. Some muscles, like our heart, we cannot even control at all. How our brain communicates with our muscles is still not fully understood.
The communication between our brain and our skeletal muscles involves motor nerves that connect the nervous system and our muscles like a telephone wire. At the neuromuscular junction, shown in bright green in this Picture of the Week, motor nerves and muscles (dark green) connect with the help of synapses. These synapses function a bit like a telephone speaker: the electrical signal from the nerves is converted into a chemical signal that can cross the gap between nerves and muscle, resulting in the contraction of the muscle.
Research on the neuromuscular junction can help us to understand some rare diseases in which key proteins involved in neuromuscular transmission are destroyed, malfunctioning or absent. One of these diseases is called myasthenia gravis. It results in muscle weakness, caused by the body’s own immune system attacking proteins in the neuromuscular junction.
Image: Chiara Morelli / EMBL
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