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
- Wave Neuroscience Acquires Newport Brain Research Laboratoryon December 6, 2019 at 2:30 pm
Newport Beach-based Wave Neuroscience, a newly formed startup, says it has acquired a number of assets from Newport Brain Research Laboratory (NBRL), along with "many different onshore and offshore ...
- Wave Neuroscience Completes Major Brain Treatment Technology Asset Purchaseon December 5, 2019 at 2:33 pm
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Wave Neuroscience – a provider of non-invasive neuromodulation technology aimed at addressing neurological disorders and enhancing cognitive brain function – ...
- Neuroscience research workshop opens at UIUon December 4, 2019 at 12:54 pm
The inaugural session of the five-day workshop “2nd IBRO-APRC Bangladesh Associate School of Neuroscience”, organised by United International University’s (UIU) computer science and engineering ...
- Month of Giving Back: Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundationon December 4, 2019 at 9:04 am
Marj Ratel of the Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation explains how they help with brain and spine surgeries in West Africa and relays the story of one young boy they’ve helped.
- Metrion and LifeArc extend neuroscience-focused ion channel drug discovery collaborationon December 3, 2019 at 9:11 pm
Metrion Biosciences Limited (Metrion), the specialist ion channel CRO and drug discovery company, and LifeArc, a leading UK independent medical research charity, today announced an extension of their ...
- Neurocrine Biosciences and Xenon Launch Up-to-$1.7B Epilepsy, Neuroscience Collaborationon December 3, 2019 at 6:32 am
“The agreement with Xenon strengthens Neurocrine Biosciences’ diverse and growing pipeline and reinforces our long-term commitment of becoming a leading neuroscience-focused biopharmaceutical company, ...
- Brii Biosciences nabs Icon, GSK veteran to lead new focus on neuroscienceon December 3, 2019 at 5:23 am
The company has taken on John Kraus, M.D., Ph.D., a veteran of Icon and GlaxoSmithKline, to lead its newly created neuroscience therapy area at a time when many biopharma companies are looking to ...
- Metrion Biosciences and LifeArc Extend Ion Channel Drug Discovery Collaboration to Accelerate Neuroscience-focused Researchon December 3, 2019 at 1:25 am
Initial twelve month collaboration successfully identifies hit compounds and progresses into hit-to-lead optimisation phase Metrion Biosciences Limited (Metrion), the specialist ion channel CRO and ...
- First Bob Hawke and Tim Fischer Monash scholars to study human rights and neuroscienceon December 3, 2019 at 12:53 am
Matthew Lennon, who graduated in medicine from UNSW with the University Medal and first class honours in neuroscience, and is now completing masters in neuroscience at Oxford University, is focused on ...
- QUT Professor Selena Bartlett offers free brain training for health and happiness at Australasian Neuroscience Society conferenceon December 2, 2019 at 12:45 pm
Professor Bartlett believes we are on the cusp of a revolution in mental health that will combine modern neuroscience with ancient practices such as meditation – presented on smartphone apps. “It’s ...
via Bing News