Bio-X scientists have improved on their original technique for peering into the intact brain, making it more reliable and safer. The results could help scientists unravel the inner connections of how thoughts, memories or diseases arise.
Last year Karl Deisseroth, a Stanford professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, announced a new way of peering into a brain – removed from the body – that provided spectacular fly-through views of its inner connections. Since then laboratories around the world have begun using the technique, called CLARITY, with some success, to better understand the brain's wiring.
However, Deisseroth said that with two technological fixes CLARITY could be even more broadly adopted. The first problem was that laboratories were not set up to reliably carry out the CLARITY process. Second, the most commonly available microscopy methods were not designed to image the whole transparent brain.
"There have been a number of remarkable results described using CLARITY," Deisseroth said, "but we needed to address these two distinct challenges to make the technology easier to use."
In a Nature Protocols paper published June 19, Deisseroth presented solutions to both of those bottlenecks. "These transform CLARITY, making the overall process much easier and the data collection much faster," he said. He and his co-authors, including postdoctoral fellows Raju Tomer and Li Ye and graduate student Brian Hsueh, anticipate that even more scientists will now be able to take advantage of the technique to better understand the brain at a fundamental level, and also to probe the origins of brain diseases.
This paper may be the first to be published with support of the White House BRAIN Initiative, announced last year with the ambitious goal of mapping the brain's trillions of nerve connections and understanding how signals zip through those interconnected cells to control our thoughts, memories, movement and everything else that makes us us.
"This work shares the spirit of the BRAIN Initiative goal of building new technologies to understand the brain – including the human brain," said Deisseroth, who is also a Stanford Bio-X affiliated faculty member.
When you look at the brain, what you see is the fatty outer covering of the nerve cells within, which blocks microscopes from taking images of the intricate connections between deep brain cells. The idea behind CLARITY was to eliminate that fatty covering while keeping the brain intact, complete with all its intricate inner wiring.
The way Deisseroth and his team eliminated the fat was to build a gel within the intact brain that held all the structures and proteins in place. They then used an electric field to pull out the fat layer that had been dissolved in an electrically charged detergent, leaving behind all the brain's structures embedded in the firm water-based gel, or hydrogel. This is called electrophoretic CLARITY.
The electric field aspect was a challenge for some labs. "About half the people who tried it got it working right away," Deisseroth said, "but others had problems with the voltage damaging tissue." Deisseroth said that this kind of challenge is normal when introducing new technologies. When he first introduced optogenetics, which allows scientists to control individual nerves using light, a similar proportion of labs were not initially set up to easily implement the new technology, and ran into challenges.
To help expand the use of CLARITY, the team devised an alternate way of pulling out the fat from the hydrogel-embedded brain – a technique they call passive CLARITY. It takes a little longer, but still removes all the fat, is much easier and does not pose a risk to the tissue. "Electrophoretic CLARITY is important for cases where speed is critical, and for some tissues," said Deisseroth, who is also the D.H. Chen Professor. "But passive CLARITY is a crucial advance for the community, especially for neuroscience." Passive CLARITY requires nothing more than some chemicals, a warm bath and time.
Many groups have begun to apply CLARITY to probe brains donated from people who had diseases like epilepsy or autism, which might have left clues in the brain to help scientists understand and eventually treat the disease. But scientists, including Deisseroth, had been wary of trying electrophoretic CLARTY on these valuable clinical samples with even a very low risk of damage. "It's a rare and precious donated sample, you don't want to have a chance of damage or error," Deisseroth said. "Now the risk issue is addressed, and on top of that you can get the data very rapidly."
The second advance had to do this rapidity of data collection. In studying any cells, scientists often make use of probes that will go into the cell or tissue, latch onto a particular molecule, then glow green, blue, yellow or other colors in response to particular wavelengths of light. This is what produces the colorful cellular images that are so common in biology research. Using CLARITY, these colorful structures become visible throughout the entire brain, since no fat remains to block the light.
But here's the hitch. Those probes stop working, or get bleached, after they've been exposed to too much light. That's fine if a scientist is just taking a picture of a small cellular structure, which takes little time. But to get a high-resolution image of an entire brain, the whole tissue is bathed in light throughout the time it takes to image it point by point. This approach bleaches out the probes before the entire brain can be imaged at high resolution.
The second advance of the new paper addresses this issue, making it easier to image the entire brain without bleaching the probes. "We can now scan an entire plane at one time instead of a point," Deisseroth said. "That buys you a couple orders of magnitude of time, and also efficiently delivers light only to where the imaging is happening." The technique is called light sheet microscopy and has been around for a while, but previously didn't have high enough resolution to see the fine details of cellular structures. "We advanced traditional light sheet microscopy for CLARITY, and can now see fine wiring structures deep within an intact adult brain," Deisseroth said. His lab built their own microscope, but the procedures are described in the paper, and the key components are commercially available. Additionally, Deisseroth's lab provides free training courses in CLARITY, modeled after his optogenetics courses, to help disseminate the techniques.
The BRAIN Initiative is being funded through several government agencies including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which funded Deisseroth's work through its new Neuro-FAST program. Deisseroth said that like the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, another major funder of the new paper), DARPA "is interested in deepening our understanding of brain circuits in intact and injured brains to inform the development of better therapies." The new methods Deisseroth and his team developed will accelerate both human- and animal-model CLARITY; as CLARITY becomes more widely used, it will continue to help reveal how those inner circuits are structured in normal and diseased brains, and perhaps point to possible therapies.
Other arms of the BRAIN Initiative are funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A working group for the NIH arm was co-led by William Newsome, professor of neurobiology and director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, and also included Deisseroth and Mark Schnitzer, associate professor of biology and of applied physics. That group recently recommended a $4.5 billion investment in the BRAIN Initiative over the next 12 years, which NIH Director Francis Collins approved earlier this month.
Amy Adams | Eurek Alert!
A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences