Thursday, February 2, 2012

New Scientis TV - First brain movie captures a mouse thinking

Andy Coghlan, reporter

Ever wondered what's going on in the brain of a mouse? Now brain cells have been captured sending and receiving signals in high resolution for the first time, essentially showing its brain in action.
To make the tiniest anatomical details of neurons visible, Katrin Willig and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, gave mice an extra gene that generates a yellow glow. When their brains were viewed with a special microscope through a glass-sealed window in the skull, the signal junctions in neurons lit up. At these intersections, tiny spines sprout from longer branching fibers, called dendrites, and exchange signals by linking up with spines on neighbouring cells.
The movie spans a 20 to 30 minute period, during which a live mouse was anaesthetised. The spines physically move and wobble at the top and base as they form and break connections with neighbouring spines. "There are always connections breaking and forming and it's the natural movement of the spine," says Willig. "It may be the mouse thinking".
Brain cells have been imaged in live animals before, but the latest movie is the first to reveal parts of neurons in such fine detail - down to a resolution of 70 nanometers.
According to Willig, the breakthrough should enable researchers to investigate the faulty connectivity that arises in a mouse brain when it's affected with a version of a human disease, such as dementia. Although the current images show the surface of the cerebral cortex, an area of the brain that controls movement, Willig claims that it may be possible to penetrate deeper. This would allow implants to be developed, enabling the spines to be viewed while the animal is conscious and mobile.
If you enjoyed this video, check out a worm's brain imaged in 3D or watch a human brain fire up during female orgasm.
Journal reference: Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1215369

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