One challenge: Brain tissue is opaque, making light scatter, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the source of each neuronal light flash. The researchers’ solution: a new computer algorithm (program), known as SID, that extracts additional information from the scattered emission light.
Reference: Nature Methods. Source: The Rockefeller University May 7, 2018
Brain cells interacting in real time
An astrocyte (green) interacts with a synapse (red), producing an optical signal (yellow). (credit: UCLA/Khakh lab)
Researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA can now peer deep inside a mouse’s brain to watch how star-shaped astrocytes (support glial cells in the brain) interact with synapses (the junctions between neurons) to signal each other and convey messages.
The method uses different colors of light that pass through a lens to magnify objects that are invisible to the naked eye. The viewable objects are now far smaller than those viewable by earlier techniques. That enables researchers to observe how brain damage alters the way astrocytes interact with neurons, and develop strategies to address these changes, for example.
Astrocytes are believed to play a key role in neurological disorders like Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease.