Scientists Find Tool to Study Brain Connections Simultaneously

Scientists from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine have developed a technique to monitor brain cell connections simultaneously. The researchers do this when the mice tweak their whiskers which indicate they are learning.

Researchers observed activity in the synapses

The researchers found their system gave them a view of the neural activity in the synapse. The synapse is the junctions between neurons where chemicals and molecules are transmitted. This junction is smaller than a micron. Some major molecules that pass through it are calcium and sodium.

According to Professor of Neuroscience and professor Psychological and Brain Sciences, John Hopkins University, Richard Huganir, before this development, observing the synapse after behavioral changes was only possible in science fiction. Huganir is also the Director in the Department of Neurosciences, John Hopkins School of Medicine.

John Hopkins University School of Medicine’s neuroscience instructor, Austin Graves, the team didn’t expect to see brain activity on a large scale. He adds that they were excited to monitor each synapse simultaneously.

Graves explains that neurotransmitters that move across a synapse to a neuron stimulate the AMPA glutamate receptor. This protein receptor is found on the surface of the neuron. They are responsible for transmitting language between neurons.

Huganir adds that the AMPA glutamate receptors and the synapses help the brain learn. It is here that the brain encodes memories. Scientists typically obtain brain cell cultures and observe the decrease and increase in proteins the cells make.

The scientists also evaluate subsets of brain cells in different parts of the brain. However, until his study, scientists couldn’t image the brain cells at once.

How scientists conduct the experiment 

For the study, researchers added GRIA1 into the mice’s DNA to genetically engineer them. As a result, they produced a glowing green tag on AMPA glutamate receptors. They noted that increased signaling from the neurons would lead to the increased production of AMPA glutamate proteins which would glow brighter.

The scientists will use the system to evaluate other behaviors in mice. They will also use it to study memory and learning. Moreover, scientists could use this study to determine how synapses change with autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and aging.

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