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Neuroscientists Devise Technique To View And Map Neuronal Circuits

Update Date: Sep 19, 2014 04:31 PM EDT

Researchers have devised a new technique that uses a genetic tool and light to view and map neuronal circuits. 

"Our overarching goal for this tool was to achieve sensing of neuronal activity with light rather than traditional electrophysiology, but this goal had a few prerequisites," said Viviana Gradinaru (BS '05), assistant professor of biology and biological engineering, in the press release. "The sensor had to be fast, since action potentials happen in just milliseconds. Also, the sensor had to be very bright so that the signal could be detected with existing microscopy setups. And you need to be able to simultaneously study the multiple neurons that make up a neural network."

For long, neuroscientists have been trying to develop tools that would allow them to learn more about brain's circuitry in action. The devised tool would provide a new way of mapping neural networks in a living organism.

"As neuroscientists we often encounter experimental barriers, which open the potential for new methods. We then collaborate to generate tools through chemistry or instrumentation, then we validate them and suggest optimizations, and it just keeps going," Gradinaru added. "There are a few things that we'd like to be better, and through these many iterations and hard work it can happen."

The work has been described in two separate papers[Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.] [Nature Communications], published this month.

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