IRISH researchers have found new insights into how our nervous system works, holding out hope of treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
The geneticists in Trinity College studied how nerve cells are programmed to respond and react to information.
Understanding precisely how to programme nerve cells could potentially help target missing or broken links following serious injury, or the onset of such degenerative diseases as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
The research published in the journal 'Neuron' was led by assistant professor in genetics at Trinity, Juan Pablo Labrador.
The research was looking at molecular switches that induce originally non-descript cells to specialise into billions of unique nerve cell types.
The geneticists are beginning to understand how these molecular switches, called 'transcription factors', turn on specific cellular labels to form complex bundles of nerves.
Prof Labrador said: "We know very little of how individual nerve cells are programmed... so our work is like reverse engineering the nervous system.
"To restore damaged or missing connections in the nervous system – for example, after spinal cord injuries or degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's – we need to know how nerve cells are programmed to make those connections in the first place.
"For that we require a complex 'builder's manual' that tells us how to programme the neurons to make the connections. What we are doing in my lab is trying to write this manual."