Neuroscientists Reprogram Brain’s GPS Using Laser Beams


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Neuroscientists at University College London (UCL) have actually utilized laser beams to “switch on” nerve cells in mice, supplying brand-new insight into the surprise functions of memory and demonstrating how memories underpin the brain’s inner GPS system.

The research study, released in the journal Cell, describes how scientists utilized an ‘all-optical’ technique utilizing twin lasers to all at once check out and compose the activity of ‘place cells’ (a kind of nerve cell) in mice, as they browsed a virtual truth environment.

Remarkably, by promoting the location cells, researchers had the ability to reactivate (or obtain) the memory of an area where the mice got a benefit, which in turn “mentally teleported” the mice, triggering them to act as if they remained in the rewarded location.

This brand-new research study constructs on the cutting-edge work of Professor John O’Keefe (UCL Cell & Developmental Biology), who won the Nobel Prize in 2014 for finding location cells. These cells are discovered in a brain area called the hippocampus, and just end up being active when an animal goes into a particular area in the environment.

Place cells are believed to represent a cognitive map of the environment — like an inner GPS — and keep area memory. The brand-new UCL research study is the very first to reveal straight that location cell activity underlies the brain’s capability to browse.

The results offer a much deeper understanding of how memories are saved, and the UCL researchers think the findings might ultimately assist us establish brand-new treatments for conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s illness, which impact memory.

First author Dr. Nick Robinson (UCL Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research) stated: “These results provide direct causal evidence that mice use the information represented by place cell activity to guide their behavior. In other words, place cells really do tell the mouse where it is, and mice actually ‘listen’ to their place cells when they make decisions. This provides new insights about how memories are stored in the brain, as well as new tools for manipulating these memories to influence behavior.”

He included: “Disorders of memory — such as in dementia and Alzheimer’s — represent a huge cost to society. This work may eventually lead to a better understanding of these diseases, as well as new targets for therapeutic intervention.”

Senior author Professor Michael Hausser (UCL Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research) stated: “This study is a game-changer as it shows that we can use optical reading and writing of activity in specific neurons to manipulate memories, allowing us to better understand — and potentially improve — how neural circuit activity helps us to make decisions.”

The speculative research study described

Researchers at UCL Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research leveraged an effective technique that integrates 2 innovative innovations for utilizing light to check out and compose electrical activity in the brain.

First, they crafted nerve cells to reveal genetically encoded calcium sensing units, which permit cells to illuminate when they are active. Second, they revealed light-sensitive ‘optogenetic’ proteins in the exact same nerve cells, enabling them to trigger particular cells with beams of laser light, targeted utilizing digital holography (the exact same innovation as utilized in a laser light program).

By integrating these 2 methods, the group might both record and control activity in the exact same nerve cells in the brain of a mouse browsing in virtual truth.

The UCL researchers utilized this technique to carry out targeted activation of location cells in the hippocampus in mice browsing to a particular area within the virtual world to gather a sugar water benefit. They very first optically taped the activity of great deals of hippocampal location cells, determining those which were active particularly at the rewarded area and which might for that reason form the basis of the memory for that area. They then utilized holographically targeted laser beams to trigger these particular location cells in a various area in the virtual world.

Remarkably, location cell stimulation sufficed to obtain the memory of the rewarded area, leading the mouse to look for the benefit at the brand-new area. In other words, the stimulation of the nerve cells with light “mentally teleports” the animal, triggering them to act as if they remained in the rewarded location. This is the very first presentation of how the activation of location cells allows us to obtain memories of our environment and assists us to browse.

Reference: “Targeted Activation of Hippocampal Place Cells Drives Memory-Guided Spatial Behavior” by Nick T.M. Robinson, Lucie A.L. Descamps, Lloyd E. Russell, Moritz O. Buchholz, Brendan A. Bicknell, Georgy K. Antonov, Joanna Y.N. Lau, Rebecca Nutbrown, Christoph Schmidt-Hieber and Michael Häusser, 6 November 2020, Cell.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.09.061

Funding for this research study was offered by Wellcome, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the European Commission, the European Molecular Biology Organization, the Medical Research Council and the European Research Council.

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