Neuroscientists must be able to map in great detail the neural circuits responsible for tasks such as processing sensory information or forming new memories to understand the brain better. A group of researchers has now described a new method for observing the activity of thousands to millions of neurons within a single brain circuit in real-time. According to the authors, the novel integrated neurophotonics method has far greater potential than any current approach.
The new technique, “integrated neurophotonics,” employs tiny arrays of optical microchips implanted at any depth inside the brain, along with fluorescent molecular reporters and optogenetic actuators, to monitor neurons and control their activity optically. The arrays emit microscale beams of light to stimulate the genetically modified neurons around them while simultaneously recording their activity, revealing their function. Although the research is currently limited to animal models, it may one day aid in discovering circuitry deep within the human brain.
Neurons have been genetically modified to express a specific protein marker, such as green fluorescent protein (GFP). When exposed to blue light, the presence of GFP causes the cell to glow green. Researchers can study ever-larger groups of neurons in model animals thanks to optogenetics.
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