New tools to peer inside a working brain

A two-photon microscopy image showing a calcium sensor (green), the nuclei of neurons (red) and supporting cells called astrocytes (magenta). Credit: John Issa/Johns Hopkins Medicine

I already observed in these posts that advances in science are mediated, made possible, by advances in our way to observe and measure things.

Our hope to eventually come to a good understanding of the brain, and to its manifestations like emotions and thoughts, strongly depend on advances in looking at the brain, and in particular at the brain as it works.

So this is why this experiment looking inside brains of mice to detect what happens when a sound is heard is so important.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins have found a new way to peer inside a working brain using a quite complex slate of technologies.

First they created a mutant mouse by altering the DNA to produce a molecule that fluoresces when it pairs with a calcium atom. When a neurone is active it produces calcium and it combines with the molecule making it fluoresce.

By inserting a sophisticated microscope (two photons microscope) over the part of the skull protecting the auditory area of the mouse (and having before thinned the skull to let photons go through) they have been able to observe which and when neurones jump into action as a sound is heard.

The hope is that we will be able to understand how the brain listen and how it transforms sound into language and understanding. This eventually may help in aiding people with an auditory deficiency that is brain dependent, something that today is beyond any possible cure.

What I liked most in this research is the combination of different technologies to reach the goal. Really amazing!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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