A team of neuroscientists have begun mapping neural pathways in the brain to determine how individual brain cells coordinate specific tasks in the body like movement and detecting an odor. “The researchers’ new imaging technique, based on the detection of calcium ions in neurons, could help them map the brain circuits that perform such functions.” By using green fluorescent proteins, researchers were able to create a calcium-imaging system that can be targeted to specific cell types, overcoming past obstacles which prevented calcium from being detected.
What’s the Big Idea?
Researchers expect that their efforts to map neuron chains in the brain will yield new insights into mental illness. “To understand psychiatric disorders we need to study animal models, and to find out what’s happening in the brain when the animal is behaving abnormally,” says Guoping Feng, the James W. and Patricia Poitras Professor of Neuroscience and a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. “This is a very powerful tool that will really help us understand animal models of these diseases and study how the brain functions normally and in a diseased state.”