New Method Visualizes Groups Of Neurons As They Compute

Using a fluorescent probe that lights up when brain cells are electrically active, MIT and Boston University researchers have shown that they can image the activity of many neurons at once, in the brains of mice.

This technique, which can be performed using a simple light microscope, could allow neuroscientists to visualize the activity of circuits within the brain and link them to specific behaviors, says Edward Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology and a professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT.

“If you want to study a behavior, or a disease, you need to image the activity of populations of neurons because they work together in a network,” says Boyden, who is also a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Media Lab, and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Using this voltage-sensing molecule, the researchers showed that they could record electrical activity from many more neurons than has been possible with any existing, fully genetically encoded, fluorescent voltage probe.

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