A new technology developed by researchers at the University of Bonn and the University of California at Los Angeles amplifies the visualization of neuronal activity using a molecular sensor.
The technique displays high-resolution images of electrical signals in living neurons, while at the same time revealing the chain of lights that propagates the dynamics of nerve cells in the brain.
According to the researchers in a Press release, the new technique will allow investigating questions that were previously closed to scientific research in the field of neurosciences and will make it possible to better understand the functioning of the brain. The work has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
There is no doubt that in recent decades, advances in understanding brain activity have been notable and cover different fields of application.
Today we know that the olfactory signals that come into play when we appreciate a perfume activate a certain group of neurons in a specific sector of the brain. Meanwhile, the memories generated by that aroma are regulated by other neurons in another brain region.
However, still some of these processes and their details remain hidden from science, leading neuroscientists to develop new studies. On this occasion, a group of German and American scientists has managed to improve a method that allows to amplify neural activity and visualize it in detail.
Light up the brain
The technology, which optimizes previous developments with similar approaches, makes it possible to observe the function of neurons without disturbing them. In this way, it is possible to obtain a more precise view of the dysfunctions associated with certain neuronal diseases.
Basically, the new technique “illuminates” the neuronal processes when it is sought to appreciate them in detail and with the maximum possible definition. To do this, it takes advantage of the electrical voltage that is generated from the contrast of the energy charge existing between the inside and the outside of the neurons, which in turn is transmitted through the axons (extremities of the nerve cells) as a “wiring Biological.
The differences in this voltage are used by the new sensor to illuminate neuronal activity, but without affecting it or subjecting it to any pressure. As a result of the “illumination,” the process reveals a string of lights around the nerve cells. Using fluorescent proteins introduced by genetic modifications, specialists obtain light “markers” that allow them to trace neuronal dynamics.
Improvements and future potential
Although the method had been developed in previous research, the new study manages to improve it considerably. For example, it extends the period in which the luminosity is maintained in the areas of action of the sensor, promoting a better use of the technique.
In addition, the sensor reacts faster and with greater sensitivity to the smallest changes in electrical signals produced in neurons. In this way, it allows the visualization and recording of up to 100 electrical pulses per second, considerably expanding the study and analysis potential.
The new approach also removes potentially toxic compounds that were used in previous studies to make visible changes in neuronal activity. In this way, it is guaranteed that the process does not impact on the activity of neurons while the studies are carried out.
Undoubtedly, the possibility of optimizing the visualization of neuronal processes in living cells is a scientific advance with enormous potential and a large number of applications, such as the detection of abnormalities that occur in neurodegenerative pathologies or the recognition of the precise way in which the brain acts in the face of different stimuli.
A dark quencher genetically encodable voltage indicator (dqGEVI) exhibits high fidelity and speed. Therese C. Alich, Milan Pabst, Leonie Pothmann, Bálint Szalontai, Guido C. Faas and Istvan Mody. PNAS (2021) .DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2020235118
Image of a living nerve cell grown in the laboratory by researchers. The surrounding membrane glows brightly because the fluorescent protein is on the outside. Credit: Milan Pabst.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.