AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 1, 2018


New Technique Could Yield Knowledge Useful to Understanding the Human Brain

Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new tool that lights up active conversations between neurons during a behavior or sensory experience, such as smelling a banana. By mapping the pattern of individual neural connections, researchers could provide insight into the computational processes that underlie the inner workings of the human brain. During their study, researchers focused on the sensory systems of fruit flies by using fluorescent molecules of different colors to tag neurons in the brain in order to see which connections were active during a sensory experience that happened hours earlier. 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. For example, the fluorescent signal persists for hours after the communication event, allowing researchers to study the brain’s activity after the fact, under a microscope. 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. 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 in the journal Nature Communications. To read more, click here.

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