See-through brain technology may lead to better treatments
Scientists at Stanford University say they’ve developed a way to make a mouse brain “transparent.” They hope the revolutionary technique may eventually lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders. The report was published in the February online edition of Nature Neuroscience.
Combining a fluorescent protein and a miniscule microscope inserted into the brain of a live mouse, researchers were able to actually to see neurons firing in real time. They hope the method will lead to a better understanding of how the brain stores information.
The fluorescent compound captured the light of nearly 700 neurons. Digital video images were studied as the mouse went about its daily activities in its enclosure, called an “arena.” The scientists looked for patterns.
“We can literally figure out where the mouse is in the arena by looking at these lights,” said Mark Schnitzer, an associate professor of biology and study author in a news release.
“The hippocampus is very sensitive to where the animal is in its environment, and different cells respond to different parts of the arena,” Schnitzer said. “Imagine walking around your office. Some of the neurons in your hippocampus light up when you’re near your desk and others fire when you’re near your chair. This is how your brain makes a representative map of a space.”
Researchers then tracked the mouse’s brain patterns over time looking for changes.
“The ability to come back and observe the same cells is very important for studying progressive brain diseases,” Schnitzer said.
The technology isn’t ready for use on humans, but scientists said they hope this is the starting point for future use.
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