Recent research has shifted the understanding of a group of specialized molecules in the extracellular matrix, recasting them from scaffolding only to key cue-providers that help guide the formation of the nervous system.

The findings are reported in the Feb. 16, 2006 Neuron by Misao Higashi, April Duckworth, Aurnab Ghose, Thomas Schwarz, Alan Tenney, David Van Vactor, John Flanagan and other colleagues. The team focused on two of these heparan sulfate proteoglycans and found that through a certain receptor, they compete to accomplish different tasks in synapse formation. The study suggests a preliminary model for a molecular synapse-forming mechanism.