An international team of researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) and the University of Salento (both in Lecce, Italy) and Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA) has developed a method to capture and pinpoint the epicenter of neural activity in the brain using light.
The approach lays the foundation for novel ways to map connections across different brain regions—an ability that can enable the design of devices to image various areas of the brain and even treat conditions that arise from malfunctions in cells inhabiting these regions, the researchers say.
One of the central challenges in modern neuroscience is recording the exchange of information between different regions of the brain, as well as between different cell types. The new method overcomes this challenge by allowing the simultaneous collection of signals from various brain regions through the use of a tapered optical probe. The study demonstrated use of light to decode the activity of specific neuronal populations as well as manipulation of different brain regions with the use of a single probe. The approach relies on bringing fluorescent molecules into specific nerve cells in order to track their electric activity and to measure the level of neurotransmitters—molecules that act as chemical messengers across neurons.