Chapter 2. Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior

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Michael Eisenstein In March, researchers in Japan mapped the cellular organization of the mouse brain in unprecedented detail. Systems biologist Hiroki Ueda at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research in Osaka, Japan, and his team created an atlas of the mouse brain using a technique called CUBIC-X, in which they chemically labelled every cell in the brain, then rendered the organ crystal-clear while also expanding its size tenfold1. From there, they used sophisticated imaging techniques to compile a comprehensive 3D neuronal survey — of some 72 million cells in all, Ueda says. The resulting atlas reduces the brain to a compact database of cellular addresses, which the team used to explore changes in various brain regions during development. Moving forward, the atlas could drive deeper explorations of brain structures that control behaviours such as the sleep–wake cycle. CUBIC-X is just one component in a growing toolbox of such methods, which exploit readily available chemicals to provide researchers with a window not just into the brain, but into virtually every organ in the body. Some are tissue-clearing methods that make opaque tissues transparent, whereas others complement tissue clearing with a proportional size increase that exposes molecular details to conventional microscopy. The choice comes down to the scientific question. There are many ways to achieve similar ends, and users should investigate the strengths and limitations of different methods before deciding which to use. The hunger for tissue-clearing techniques originated with neuroscientists, who were frustrated by their limited ability to trace the snaking routes of axons and dendrites in the brain. © 2018 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25755 - Posted: 12.06.2018

By R. Douglas Fields SAN DIEGO—In the textbook explanation for how information is encoded in the brain, neurons fire a rapid burst of electrical signals in response to inputs from the senses or other stimulation. The brain responds to a light turning on in a dark room with the short bursts of nerve impulses, called spikes. Each close grouping of spikes can be compared to a digital bit, the binary off-or-on code used by computers. Neuroscientists have long known, though, about other forms of electrical activity present in the brain. In particular, rhythmic voltage fluctuations in and around neurons—oscillations that occur at the same 60-cycle-per-second frequency as AC current in the U.S.—have caught the field’s attention. These gamma waves encode information by changing a signal’s amplitude, frequency or phase (relative position of one wave to another)—and the rhythmic voltage surges influence the timing of spikes. Heated debate has arisen in recent years as to whether these analog signals, akin to the ones used to broadcast AM or FM radio, may play a role in sorting, filtering and organizing the information flows required for cognitive processes. They may be instrumental in perceiving sensory inputs, focusing attention, making and recalling memories and coupling various cognitive processes into one coherent scene. It is thought that populations of neurons that oscillate at gamma frequencies may unite the neural activity in the same way the violin section of an orchestra is coupled together in time and rhythm with the percussion section to create symphonic music. When gamma waves oscillate in resonance, “you get very rich repertoires of behaviors,” says Wolf Singer, a neuroscientist at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, who researches gamma waves. Just as your car’s dashboard will vibrate in sync with the motor vibrating at a resonant frequency, so too can separate populations of neurons couple in resonance. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25731 - Posted: 11.29.2018

Abby Olena In 2005, a 23-year-old woman in the UK was involved in a traffic accident that left her with a severe brain injury. Five months after the event, she slept and woke and could open her eyes, but she didn’t always respond to smells or touch or track things visually. In other words, she fit the clinical criteria for being in a vegetative state. In a study published in Science in 2006, a team of researchers tested her ability to imagine herself playing tennis or walking through her house while they observed activity in her brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Remarkably, her brain responded with activity in the same areas of the brains of healthy people when asked to do the same, indicating that she was capable of complex cognition, despite her apparent unresponsiveness at the bedside. The findings indicated that this patient and others like her may have hidden cognitive abilities that, if found, could potentially help them communicate or improve their prognosis. Since then, researchers and clinicians around the world have used task-based neuroimaging to determine that other patients who appear unresponsive or minimally conscious can do challenging cognitive tasks. The problem is that the tests to uncover hidden consciousness can be complex to analyze, expensive to perform, and hard for all patients to access. “You would like to know if people who look like they’re unconscious are actually following what’s going on and able to carry out cognitive work, and we don’t have an efficient way of sorting those patients,” says Nicholas Schiff, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25725 - Posted: 11.27.2018

By Sharon Begley, The brain surgeon began as he always does, making an incision in the scalp and gently spreading it apart to expose the skull. He then drilled a 3-inch circular opening through the bone, down to the thick, tough covering called the dura. He sliced through that, and there in the little porthole he’d made was the glistening, blood-flecked, pewter-colored brain, ready for him to approach the way spies do a foreign embassy: He bugged it. Dr. Ashesh Mehta, a neurosurgeon at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research on Long Island, was operating on his epilepsy patient to determine the source of seizures. But the patient agreed to something more: to be part of an audacious experiment whose ultimate goal is to translate thoughts into speech. While he was in there, Mehta carefully placed a flat array of microelectrodes on the left side of the brain’s surface, over areas involved in both listening to and formulating speech. By eavesdropping on the electrical impulses that crackle through the gray matter when a person hears in the “mind’s ear” what words he intends to articulate (often so quickly it’s barely conscious), then transmitting those signals wirelessly to a computer that decodes them, the electrodes and the rest of the system hold the promise of being the first “brain-computer interface” to go beyond movement and sensation. If all goes well, it will conquer the field’s Everest: developing a brain-computer interface that could enable people with a spinal cord injury, locked-in syndrome, ALS, or other paralyzing condition to talk again. © 2018 Scientific America

Keyword: Brain imaging; Robotics
Link ID: 25708 - Posted: 11.21.2018

Sara Reardon A new technique that makes dead mice transparent and hard like plastic is giving researchers an unprecedented view of how different types of cell interact in the body. The approach lets scientists pinpoint specific tissues within an animal while scanning its entire body. The approach, called vDISCO, has already revealed surprising structural connections between organs, including hints about the extent to which brain injuries affect the immune system and nerves in other parts of the body. That could lead to better treatments for traumatic brain injury or stroke. Methods that turn entire organs clear have become popular in the past few years, because they allow scientists to study delicate internal structures without disturbing them. But removing organs from an animal’s body for analysis can make it harder to see the full effect of an injury or disease. And if scientists use older methods to make an entire mouse transparent, it can be difficult to ensure that the fluorescent markers used to label cells reach the deepest parts of an organ. The vDISCO technique overcomes many of these problems. By making the dead mice rigid and see-through, it can preserve their bodies for years, down to the structure of individual cells, says Ali Ertürk, a neuroscientist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, who led the team that developed vDISCO. He presented the work this week at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25676 - Posted: 11.13.2018

Jon Hamilton Scientists may have caught a glimpse of what sadness looks like in the brain. A study of 21 people found that for most, feeling down was associated with greater communication between brain areas involved in emotion and memory, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Thursday in the journal Cell. "There was one network that over and over would tell us whether they were feeling happy or sad," says Vikaas Sohal, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF. The finding could lead to a better understanding of mood disorders, and perhaps new ways of treating them. Previous research had established that sadness and other emotions involve the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass found in each side of the brain. And there was also evidence that the hippocampus, which is associated with memory, can play a role in emotion. But Sohal and the other researchers were curious about precisely what these and other brain areas are doing when someone's mood shifts. "We really wanted to get at, you know, when you're feeling down or feeling happy, what exactly is happening in the brain at those moments," Sohal says. You can't get that information from brain scans, which don't capture changes that happen in fractions of a second. So the team studied 21 people who were in the hospital awaiting brain surgery for severe epilepsy. © 2018 npr

Keyword: Emotions; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25659 - Posted: 11.09.2018

Surgeons have tested the use of a fluorescent marker that can help them remove dangerous brain tumour cells from patients more accurately. The research was carried out on people who had suspected glioblastoma, the disease that killed British politician Dame Tessa Jowell in May, and the most common form of brain cancer. Treatment usually involves surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, but it can be challenging for surgeons to identify all the cancer cells while avoiding healthy brain tissue. Researchers said using the fluorescent marker helped distinguish the most aggressive cancer cells from other brain tissue and they hope this will ultimately improve patient survival. They used a compound called 5-aminolevulinic acid or 5-ALA, which the patient drinks. The compound glows pink when a light is shone on it. Previous research shows that 5-ALA accumulates in fast-growing cancer cells so it can act as a fluorescent marker of high-grade cells. The study was carried out on 99 patients with suspected high-grade gliomas – a kind of tumour –who were treated at Royal Liverpool hospital, King’s college hospital in London and Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. They were aged between 23 and 77, with an average age of 59. During their operations, surgeons reported seeing fluorescence in 85 patients and 81 of these were subsequently confirmed by pathologists to have high-grade disease. One was found to have low-grade disease and three could not be assessed. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25646 - Posted: 11.05.2018

Devika G. Bansal Tools that use light, drugs, or temperature to make neurons fire or rest on command have become a mainstay in neuroscience. Thermogenetics, which enables neurons to respond to temperature shifts, first took off with fruit flies about a decade ago, but is emerging as a new trick to manipulate the neural functioning of other model organisms. That’s due to some advantages it affords over optogenetics—the light-based technique that started it all. Genetic toolkits such as thermogenetics and optogenetics follow a basic recipe: scientists pick a receptor that responds to an external cue such as temperature or light, express the receptor in specific neurons as a switch that changes the cell’s voltage—triggering or inhibiting firing—and then use the cue to turn the neural switch on or off. Optogenetics revolutionized our understanding of how the brain’s wiring affects animal behavior. But it comes with drawbacks. For one, delivering light into the deepest regions of the brains of nontransparent animals is a challenge. In mice, this requires surgically inserting optical fibers into the brain, tethering the animal to the light source. Researchers working with adult fruit flies can cut a window through the head cuticle to access the brain. In both cases, the necessary experimental setups are invasive and often time and effort intensive. Additionally, the light intensity required for optogenetics tends to damage tissue. “You pump a lot of light through the optical fiber to activate neurons,” says Vsevolod Belousov, a biochemist at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow who develops thermogenetic tools. “In general, this is not avoidable.” © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25636 - Posted: 11.02.2018

Ashley P. Taylor Two studies in mice published today (October 31) in Nature report the existence of several types of brain cells that had not been acknowledged before. These cell types are distinguished by their gene expression patterns, and within one cortical area, they perform distinct functions. For the gene expression study, led by the Allen Institute’s Hongkui Zeng, researchers performed single-cell RNA sequencing on more than 20,000 cells, most of which were neurons, in the visual cortex and the anterior lateral motor cortex of the mouse brain. Using this method, they identified 133 distinct cell types, both excitatory and inhibitory. They found that the various inhibitory neurons were present in both cortical areas but that the excitatory cell types kept to specific regions, as neuroscientists Aparna Bhaduri and Tomasz Nowakowski of the University of California, San Francisco, describe in an accompanying Nature commentary. “When we see not only cell types that people have identified before, but a number of new ones that are showing up in the data, it’s really exciting for us,” says Zeng in a press release. “It’s like we are able to put all the different pieces of the puzzle The other study, led by Karel Svoboda of the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, examined the functions of two subtypes identified through the gene-expression study. These are excitatory cells called pyramidal tract neurons that reside within layer five of the anterior lateral motor cortex in mice. The researchers used optogenetics to activate either one neuronal subtype or the other in mice and at the same time monitored the activity of the two types of neurons during movement. They found that pyramidal tract neurons in the upper part of layer five seem to be involved in preparing for movement, whereas those in the lower part of layer five help execute it. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25634 - Posted: 11.02.2018

Jeffrey M. Perkel Randal Burns recalls that the brain-science community was “abuzz” in 2011. Burns, a computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was focusing on astrophysics and fluid dynamics data management at the time. But he was intrigued when Joshua Vogelstein, a neuroscientist and colleague at Johns Hopkins, told him that the first large-scale neural-connectivity data sets had just been collected and asked for his help to present them online. “It was the first time that you had data of that quality, at that resolution and scale, where you had the sense that you could build a neural map of an interesting portion of the brain,” says Burns. Vogelstein worked with Burns to build a system that would make those data — 20 trillion voxels’ worth — available to the larger neuroscience community. The team has now generalized the software to support different classes of imaging data and describes the system this week (J. T. Vogelstein et al. Nature Meth. 15, 846-847; 2018). NeuroData is a free, cloud-based collection of web services that supports large-scale neuroimaging data, from electron microscopy to magnetic resonance imaging and fluorescence photomicrographs. Key to its functionality, Vogelstein says, is the spatial database bossDB, which allows researchers to retrieve images of any section of the brain, at any resolution, and in several standard formats. Users can then explore those data using a tool known as Neuroglancer. As they navigate the images, the URL changes to reflect their specific view, allowing them to share particular visualizations with their colleagues. “These links become a core part of the way in which we communicate and pass data back and forth to one another,” says Forrest Collman, a neuroscientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, and a co-author of the paper. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25631 - Posted: 11.01.2018

The transmission speed of neurons fluctuates in the brain to achieve an optimal flow of information required for day-to-day activities, according to a National Institutes of Health study. The results, appearing in PNAS, suggest that brain cells called astrocytes alter the transmission speed of neurons by changing the thickness of myelin, an insulation material, and the width of gaps in myelin called nodes of Ranvier, which amplify signals. “Scientists used to think that myelin could not be thinned except when destroyed in demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis,” said R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D., senior author and chief of the Section on Nervous System Development and Plasticity at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “Our study suggests that under normal conditions, the myelin sheath and structure of the nodes of Ranvier are dynamic, even in adults.” The brain is composed of neurons, which have extensions called axons that can stretch for long distances. Axons are wrapped by layers of myelin, which serve as insulation to increase the speed of signals relayed by neurons. Gaps between segments of myelin are called nodes of Ranvier, and the number and width of these gaps can also regulate transmission speed. “Myelin can be located far from the neuron’s synapse, where signals originate,” said NICHD’s Dipankar Dutta, Ph.D., the lead author of the study. “We wanted to understand how myelin, and the cells that regulate it, help synchronize signals that come from different areas of the brain.”

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Glia
Link ID: 25627 - Posted: 10.31.2018

Anna Nowogrodzki On a cold morning in Minneapolis last December, a man walked into a research centre to venture where only pigs had gone before: into the strongest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine built to scan the human body. First, he changed into a hospital gown, and researchers made sure he had no metal on his body: no piercings, rings, metal implants or pacemakers. Any metal could be ripped out by the immensely powerful, 10.5-tesla magnet — weighing almost 3 times more than a Boeing 737 aeroplane and a full 50% more powerful than the strongest magnets approved for clinical use. Days earlier, he had passed a check-up that included a baseline test of his sense of balance to make sure that any dizziness from exposure to the magnets could be assessed properly. In the MRI room at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, he lay down inside a 4-metre-long tube, surrounded by 110 tonnes of magnet and 600 tonnes of iron shielding, for an hour’s worth of imaging of his hips, whose thin cartilage would test the limits of the machine’s resolution. The centre’s director, Kamil Ugurbil, had been waiting for years for this day. The magnet faced long delays because the liquid helium needed to fill it was in short supply. After the machine was finally delivered, on a below-freezing day in 2013, it took four years of animal testing and ramping up the field strength before Ugurbil and his colleagues were comfortable sending in the first human. Even then, they didn’t quite know what they’d see. But it was worth the wait: when the scan materialized on screen, the fine resolution revealed intricate details of the wafer-thin cartilage that protects the hip socket. “It was extremely exciting and very rewarding,” Ugurbil says. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25625 - Posted: 10.31.2018

Wenyao Xu Your brain is an inexhaustible source of secure passwords – but you might not have to remember anything. Passwords and PINs with letters and numbers are relatively easily hacked, hard to remember and generally insecure. Biometrics are starting to take their place, with fingerprints, facial recognition and retina scanning becoming common even in routine logins for computers, smartphones and other common devices. They’re more secure because they’re harder to fake, but biometrics have a crucial vulnerability: A person only has one face, two retinas and 10 fingerprints. They represent passwords that can’t be reset if they’re compromised. Like usernames and passwords, biometric credentials are vulnerable to data breaches. In 2015, for instance, the database containing the fingerprints of 5.6 million U.S. federal employees was breached. Those people shouldn’t use their fingerprints to secure any devices, whether for personal use or at work. The next breach might steal photographs or retina scan data, rendering those biometrics useless for security. Our team has been working with collaborators at other institutions for years, and has invented a new type of biometric that is both uniquely tied to a single human being and can be reset if needed. When a person looks at a photograph or hears a piece of music, her brain responds in ways that researchers or medical professionals can measure with electrical sensors placed on her scalp. We have discovered that every person’s brain responds differently to an external stimulus, so even if two people look at the same photograph, readings of their brain activity will be different. © 2010–2018, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Robotics
Link ID: 25622 - Posted: 10.27.2018

By Diana Kwon Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal revolutionized the study of the brain when he observed neurons for the first time. His investigations, now more than 100 years old, revealed intricate details of nerve cells in many different animals, including humans—rootlike dendrites attached to bulbous cell bodies, from which extend long, slender axons. Cajal’s examinations also revealed dendrites (via which nerve cells receive signals from other neurons) were much longer in humans than in rodents and other animals, even other non-human primates. A new study, published this week in Cell, shows that in people these antennalike projections also have distinct electrical properties that may help explain how the brain processes arriving information. Scientists have been meticulously studying dendrites in the decades since Cajal’s initial observations. Still, “the only thing we really knew about human dendrites was their anatomy,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Mark Harnett says. “There was a lot of potential for human dendrites to be doing something different because of their length, but there was no published work, as far as I know, on their actual electrical properties.” So Harnett and his colleagues set out to investigate whether the length of dendrites affected electrical signals transmitted through them. With the help of a neurologist, Sydney Cash of Massachusetts General Hospital, they were able to obtain brain tissue that had been removed from epilepsy patients undergoing routine surgery to help allay seizures—a procedure in which physicians routinely remove part of the temporal cortex to get to the hippocampus, a structure deep inside the brain where seizures typically originate. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging; Evolution
Link ID: 25594 - Posted: 10.20.2018

Sara Reardon Cuttlefish are masters at altering their appearance to blend into their surroundings. But the cephalopods can no longer hide their inner thoughts, thanks to a technique that infers a cuttlefish’s brain activity by tracking the ever-changing patterns on its skin. The findings, published in Nature on 17 October1, could help researchers to better understand how the brain controls behaviour. The cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) camouflages itself by contracting the muscles around tiny, coloured skin cells called chromatophores. The cells come in several colours and act as pixels across the cuttlefish’s body, changing their size to alter the pattern on the animal’s skin. The cuttlefish doesn’t always conjure up an exact match for its background. It can also blanket itself in stripes, rings, mottles or other complex patterns to make itself less noticeable to predators. “On any background, especially a coral reef, it can’t look like a thousand things,” says Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois. “Camouflage is about deceiving the visual system.” To better understand how cuttlefish create these patterns across their bodies, neuroscientist Gilles Laurent at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, and his collaborators built a system of 20 video cameras to film cuttlefish at 60 frames per second as they swam around their enclosures. The cameras captured the cuttlefish changing colour as they passed by backgrounds such as gravel or printed images that the researchers placed in the tanks. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited.

Keyword: Vision; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25589 - Posted: 10.18.2018

By Neuroskeptic A new review paper in The Neuroscientist highlights the problem of body movements for neuroscience, from blinks to fidgeting. Authors Patrick J Drew and colleagues of Penn State discuss how many types of movements are associated with widespread brain activation, which can contaminate brain activity recordings. This is true, they say, of both humans and experimental animals such as rodents, e.g. with their ‘whisking’ movements of the whiskers. A particular concern is that many movements occur (or change in frequency) over similar timescales to some measures of neural activity – especially resting state fMRI – which means that movement-related activity could be mistaken for more interesting neural signals. Here’s how the authors describe the relationship between one kind of movement, blinking, and brain activity: Blink-related modulations are visible in BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals in the primary visual cortex, as well as higher brain regions, such as the frontal eye field (FEF), and regions associated with the default network and somatosensory areas… If the rate of blinking were constant, ongoing blinks would not be an issue, and they would simply be averaged out. However, spontaneous eye blink rate dynamically varies on slow time scales (~0.001 Hz to 0.1 Hz), and these variations can drive correlated activity in multiple brain regions.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25574 - Posted: 10.15.2018

By Emily Underwood The ornately folded outer layer of the human brain, the cerebral cortex, has long received nearly all the credit for our ability to perform complex cognitive tasks such as composing a sonata, imagining the plot of a novel or reflecting on our own thoughts. One explanation for how we got these abilities is that the cortex rapidly expanded relative to body size as primates evolved — the human cortex has 10 times the surface area of a monkey’s cortex, for example, and 1,000 times that of a mouse. But the cortex is not the only brain region that has gotten bigger and more complex throughout evolution. Nestled beneath the cortex, a pair of egg-shaped structures called the thalamus has also grown, and its wiring became much more intricate as mammals diverged from reptiles. The thalamus — from the Greek thalamos, or inner chamber — transmits 98 percent of sensory information to the cortex, including vision, taste, touch and balance; the only sense that doesn’t pass through this brain region is smell. The thalamus also conducts motor signals and relays information from the brain stem to the cortex, coordinating shifts in consciousness such as waking up and falling asleep. Scientists have known for decades that the thalamus faithfully transmits information about the visual world from the retina to the cortex, leading to the impression that it is largely a messenger of sensory information rather than a center of complex cognition itself. But that limited, passive view of the thalamus is outdated, maintains Michael Halassa, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who recently coauthored (with Ralf D. Wimmer and Rajeev V. Rikhye) an article in the Annual Review of Neuroscience exploring the thalamus’s role. © 2018 Annual Reviews, Inc

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25542 - Posted: 10.08.2018

By Simon Makin Neuroscientists know a lot about how individual neurons operate but remarkably little about how large numbers of them work together to produce thoughts, feelings and behavior. They need a wiring diagram for the brain—known as a connectome—to identify the circuits that underlie the organ’s functions. Now researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and their colleagues have developed an innovative brain-mapping technique and used it to trace the connections emanating from nearly 600 neurons in a mouse brain’s main visual area in just three weeks. This technology could someday be used to help understand disorders thought to involve atypical brain wiring, such as autism or schizophrenia. The technique works by tagging cells with genetic “bar codes.” Researchers inject viruses into mice brains, where the viruses direct cells to produce random 30-letter RNA sequences (consisting of the nucleotide “letters” G, A, U and C). The cells also create a protein that binds to these RNA bar codes and drags them the length of each neuron’s output wire, or axon. The researchers later dissect the mice brains into target regions and sequence the cells in each area, enabling them to determine which tagged neurons are connected to which regions. The team found that neurons in a mouse’s primary visual cortex typically send outputs to multiple other visual areas. It also discovered that most cells fall into six distinct groups based on which regions—and how many of them—they connect to. This finding suggests there are subtypes of neurons in a mouse’s primary visual cortex that perform different functions. “Because we have so many neurons, we can do statistics and start understanding the patterns we see,” says Cold Spring Harbor’s Justus Kebschull, co-lead author of the study, which was published in April in Nature. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging; Autism
Link ID: 25527 - Posted: 10.04.2018

Giorgia Guglielmi Biophysicist Adam Cohen was strolling around San Francisco, California, in 2010, when a telephone call caught him by surprise. “We have a signal,” said the caller. Nearly 5,000 kilometres away, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his collaborators had struck gold. After months of failed experiments, the researchers had found a fluorescent protein that allowed them to watch signals as they passed between neurons. But there was something weird going on. When Cohen got back to his lab at Harvard University, he learned that all the recordings of the experiment showed a strange progression. At first, neurons decorated with the protein flashed nicely as electric impulses whizzed through them. But then the cells turned into bright blobs. “Halfway through each recording, the signal would go all wild,” Cohen says. So he decided to join his team during an experiment. “When they started the recording, they would sit there holding their breath,” Cohen says. But as soon as they realized it was working, they would celebrate, “dancing and running around the room”. In their exuberance, they were letting the light from a desk lamp shine right onto the microscope. “We were actually recording our excitement,” says Daniel Hochbaum, then a graduate student in Cohen’s group. They toned down their celebrations, and a year later, the team published its study1 — one of the first to show that a fluorescent protein engineered into specific mammalian neurons could be used to track individual electric impulses in real time. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25478 - Posted: 09.21.2018

By Emily Underwood The human gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells—it’s practically a brain unto itself. And indeed, the gut actually talks to the brain, releasing hormones into the bloodstream that, over the course of about 10 minutes, tell us how hungry it is, or that we shouldn’t have eaten an entire pizza. But a new study reveals the gut has a much more direct connection to the brain through a neural circuit that allows it to transmit signals in mere seconds. The findings could lead to new treatments for obesity, eating disorders, and even depression and autism—all of which have been linked to a malfunctioning gut. The study reveals “a new set of pathways that use gut cells to rapidly communicate with … the brain stem,” says Daniel Drucker, a clinician-scientist who studies gut disorders at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, who was not involved with the work. Although many questions remain before the clinical implications become clear, he says, “This is a cool new piece of the puzzle.” In 2010, neuroscientist Diego Bohórquez of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, made a startling discovery while looking through his electron microscope. Enteroendocrine cells, which stud the lining of the gut and produce hormones that spur digestion and suppress hunger, had footlike protrusions that resemble the synapses neurons use to communicate with each other. Bohórquez knew the enteroendocrine cells could send hormonal messages to the central nervous system, but he also wondered whether they could “talk” to the brain using electrical signals, the way that neurons do. If so, they would have to send the signals through the vagus nerve, which travels from the gut to the brain stem. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Obesity; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25476 - Posted: 09.21.2018