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Illustration of microtubules

Axons, the tendril-like offshoots of neurons, contain structures known as microtubules, which are packed together like bundles of straws. These microtubules act as train tracks for transporting molecular cargo from one end of the neuron to the other. The protein tau acts as the crossties for these train-tracks, and plays a critical role in the overall stability of the structure.

New computational modeling research shows that with fast applications of strain, like what occurs in certain head injuries, tau is less able to stretch and absorb the stress. This stress is thus passed to the microtubules, which break and cause the molecular cargo to build up, one of the major signs of a traumatic brain injury.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania

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