New research into how brain cells communicate could help people with degenerative neurological conditions.
Scientists believe their findings could help to develop treatments that slow the progress of a broad range of brain disorders such as Huntington's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
When connection points in the brain, known as synapses, stop working - because of injury or disease - the chain of brain signalling breaks down and cannot be repaired.
The team at the University of Edinburgh analysed how connection points between brain cells break down during disease and identified six proteins that control the process.
The research will help scientists identify drugs to target these proteins, which may eventually enable clinicians to slow the progress of these conditions.
Dr Thomas Wishart, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: "At the moment there are no drugs that can effectively halt the progress of degenerative illnesses such as Huntington's disease or Alzheimer's disease.
"This study has identified key proteins which may control what goes wrong in a range of brain disorders. We now hope to identify drugs that prevent the breakdown of communication between brain cells and, as a result, halt the progress of these devastating neurodegenerative conditions."
The study, published in PLoS Genetics, was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.