Researchers at Brown University have developed a practical new way of imaging the activity between individual neurons in the brain, providing scientists with a powerful tool to study neural diseases, their causes, and potential treatments. The technology has been trialed in fruit flies and has already resulted in previously unmapped neural circuits related to eating and tasting.
Known as trans-Tango, the new technique relies on introducing two genetically engineered types of neurons into a fly. One type of neuron lights up when exposed to a specific triggering protein. The other type produces this signaling protein, but also a protein that makes the neuron itself light up. When electrical activity between the two types of neurons takes place, the proteins are released, and the connections can be seen under a microscope.
The advantage of the technology is that it works with any types of neurons and is not controlled by any particular neurotransmitters. Any neurons that have a connection via a synapse can be imaged whether they’re talking between each other during a particular task. Additionally, the same technology should allow scientists to trigger, or stop, specific connections to see which other neurons are affected by the signal.
“trans-Tango provides genetic accessibility in the context of connectivity,” said Gilad Barnea, lead author of the research, said in a statement. “Our technique allows you to access the neurons that interact with the particular ‘starter’ cell you target. It therefore expands the use of molecular genetic techniques beyond the cell for which you have a marker to the ones it ‘talks’ to.”
While the technology is only applicable, at this point, to small animals, it can still provide incredible insights into how our brains work, as they’re in many ways nearly identical to the Drosophila fly.
Here’s a Brown video with the scientists responsible for the research:
Here’s an example mapping that was created using the trans-Tango technique:
Via: Brown University…