Northwestern University neuroscientists now can read the mind of a fly.
They have developed a clever new tool that lights up active conversations between neurons during a behavior or sensory experience, such as smelling a banana. Mapping the pattern of individual neural connections could provide insights into the computational processes that underlie the workings of the human brain.
In a study focused on three of the fruit fly’s sensory systems, the researchers used fluorescent molecules of different colors to tag neurons in the brain to see which connections were active during a sensory experience that happened hours earlier.
Synapses are points of communication where neurons exchange information. The fluorescent labeling technique is the first to allow scientists to identify individual synapses that are active during a complex behavior, such as avoiding heat. Better yet, the fluorescent signal persists for hours after the communication event, allowing researchers to study the brain’s activity after the fact, under a microscope.
“Much of the brain’s computation happens at the level of synapses, where neurons are talking to each other,” said Marco Gallio, who led the study. “Our technique gives us a window of opportunity to see which synapses were engaged in communication during a particular behavior or sensory experience. It is a unique retrospective label.”
Gallio is an assistant professor of neurobiology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
By reading the fluorescent signals, the researchers could tell if a fly had been in either heat or cold for 10 minutes an entire hour after the sensory event had happened, for example. They also could see that exposure to the scent of a banana activated neural connections in the olfactory system that were different from those activated when the fly smelled jasmine.
Details of the versatile technique, which could be used with other model systems for neuroscience study, were published today (Dec. 4) in the journal Nature Communications.
Gallio and his team wanted to study the brain activity of a fruit fly while it performed a complex behavior, but this is not easily achieved under a microscope. The scientists figured out a different approach using genetic engineering. Starting with the gene for a green fluorescent protein found in jellyfish, the authors derived three different colored markers that light up at the point of contact between neurons that are active and talking to each other (the synapse). The fluorescent signals can be read one to three hours after the action is over.
“Different synapses are active during different behaviors, and we can see that in the same animal with our three distinct labels,” said Gallio, the paper’s corresponding author.
The fluorescent green, yellow and blue signals enabled the researchers to label different synapses activated by the sensory experience in different colors in the same animal. The fluorescent signals persisted and could later be viewed under a relatively simple microscope.
The researchers studied the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, a model animal for learning about the brain and its communication channels. They tested their newly engineered fluorescent molecules by applying them to the neural connections of the most prominent sensory systems in the fly: its sense of smell, sophisticated visual system and highly tuned thermosensory system.
They exposed the animals to different sensory experiences, such as heat or light exposure and smelling bananas or jasmine, to see what was happening in the brain during the experience.
To create the labels, the scientists split a fluorescent molecule in half, one half for the talking neuron and one half for the listening neuron. If those neurons talked to each other when a fly was exposed to the banana smell or heat, the two halves came together and lit up. This only happened at the site of active synaptic transmission.
“Our results show we can detect a specific pattern of activity between neurons in the brain, recording instantaneous exchanges between them as persistent signals that can later be visualized under a microscope,” Gallio said.
This is the kind of new technology scientists discuss in the context of President Obama’s BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, Gallio said. Such a tool will help researchers better understand how brain circuits process information, and this knowledge then can be applied to humans.
The Latest on: Neuroscience
via Google News
The Latest on: Neuroscience
- Yale-New Haven Health's Marna Borgstrom is building up neuroscience, focusing on safetyon November 19, 2019 at 8:46 am
The health system is building an $838 million Neuroscience Center at Yale New Haven Hospital System’s Saint Raphael campus to bolster Yale Medical School’s research and clinical expertise in Parkinson ...
- Branded Entertainment Network Announces Record Revenue Growth; Rapid Expansion of AI Development Team and Neuroscience Capabilitieson November 19, 2019 at 5:01 am
In 2020, the company will continue to invest in neural networks that use deep learning technology and neuroscience to improve BEN’s predictive capabilities related to content. “Our proprietary AI has ...
- Alkermes Buying Neuroscience Startup Rodin Therapeutics for Up to $950 Millionon November 18, 2019 at 7:14 pm
Neuroscience drug startup Rodin Therapeutics Inc. has agreed to be acquired by Alkermes PLC for up to $950 million, showing the continued strong interest among pharmaceutical companies in attacking ...
- Yumanity Therapeutics Appoints Neuroscience Veteran, Brigitte Robertson, M.D., as Chief Medical Officeron November 18, 2019 at 5:35 am
Yumanity Therapeutics Appoints Neuroscience Veteran, Brigitte Robertson, M.D., as Chief Medical Officer Business Wire CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- November 18, 2019 Yumanity Therapeutics, a clinical stage ...
- New Discoveries About Myelin That Have Changed Neuroscienceon November 17, 2019 at 1:54 pm
Neurons are the basic functional units of the brain. They have three main parts: dendrites, a cell body and an axon (more commonly known as a nerve fiber). Dendrites look like twigs growing off the ...
- Scripture and Neuroscience Agree: It Helps to Lament in Communityon November 15, 2019 at 10:04 am
Recently, I awoke suddenly around 1:45am in a tangle of sheets, pillows, and sweat, my body fitfully grasping for peace in the presence of pain. I had just made a medication shift the day before, and ...
- Carbon nanotubes open new horizons for neuroscience: controlling neural cell outgrowthon November 14, 2019 at 5:48 am
To enhance the progress in neuroscience, nanotechnology has been playing an important role. Carbon nanotubes have been studied for over 25 years with significant contributions to nanotechnology.
- Emerging intersections between neuroscience and glioma biologyon November 12, 2019 at 11:43 am
Progress in neuroscience has helped identify key factors in CNS development. In parallel, studies in recent years have increased our understanding of molecular and cellular factors in the development ...
- Why Sandy Weill thinks the ’20s will be 'the decade of breakthroughs in neuroscience'on November 12, 2019 at 11:23 am
Sandy and Joan Weill have learned a few things in the three years since they gave $185 million toward a new neuroscience institute at the University of California, San Francisco — namely that there is ...
- $106M gift will help UW and two partners ‘accelerate discovery’ in the field of neuroscienceon November 12, 2019 at 8:30 am
The University of Washington will share in a $106 million philanthropic gift to spur neuroscience research into brain diseases and disorders. UW, the University of California (UC) Berkeley and UC San ...
via Bing News