Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Viruses and ‘young cuckoos’ lead the way in the brain

16.10.2008
Harmless viruses and genetic ‘young cuckoos’ are going to reveal the answers as to how the brain establishes where we are. The understanding of our sense of locality will be the first higher brain function that we understand at a molecular level.

Previously, researchers at the Kavli Institute at NTNU discovered the brain’s own GPS – a particular type of cells from which the sense of locality stems. Now, they are adopting gene technology in order to dig deeper: They want to know how advanced mental phenomena such as memory, sense of locality and decisions come into existence in the interaction between millions of nervous cells.

This is the first time researchers will succeed in describing and explaining down to the least detail how a so-called higher brain function works mechanistically. And everything takes place in rat brains.

The Institute has been awarded a grant of NOK 20 million from the European Research Council (ERC), via the programme ERC Advanced Investigator Grants.

Shining researcher stars

”This is primarily a recognition of the fantastic work performed at the Kavli Institute,” says NTNU Rector Torbjørn Digernes. ”Mr. and Mrs Moser have long been shining stars on the researcher sky. They are an inspiration for everyone else.”

”The 20 millions are very welcome,” Professor Moser says. ”This project brings Norwegian brain research another step forward. It is also a huge inspiration for basic research on the mechanistic basis for mental functions. It will bring us much closer to an understanding of how nervous cells produce mental functions, and in the long run contribute to the treatment of diseases attacking the brain.”

Viruses as messengers

It is a well-known fact that the experience-based functions in question are the result of interaction between thousands of nervous cells scattered in the brain, and millions of contact points between them. However, it has been impossible to study this through experiments. Methods for stimulating selected cell types in the same brain area have been lacking.

New gene technology changes this situation. The project uses viruses to switch certain nervous cells on and off. We are talking harmless viruses here that are unable to copy themselves and cause damage. The only function of the virus is to be the messenger: It brings an alien gene in among the brain cells, finds the right cell type and delivers the gene there. The cells absorb the gene and make it their own. Then they start producing the protein that the gene has the ”recipe” of. This changes the cell’s characteristics.

Genetic ‘young cuckoos’

”The new genes placed inside the nervous cells are a bit like young cuckoos, ” says Professor Edvard Moser at the Kavli Institute. ”They are a bit different, but regarded as part of the family. We know the "young cuckoo's" characteristics and how to make it sing and keep quiet. Or, as we call it: switch the genes on and off. That is the stroke of genius and what enables us to study which cells that do what inside our brains," Moser explains.

The new genes can be switched on and off by for instance adding certain chemicals to the rats’ drinking water. When the genes are switched on (no chemicals added), they produce proteins. When the genes are switched off (chemicals added), the protein production stops. The proteins are important for the cells to be able to send certain types of signals. By controlling how the signals are sent, we can control the activity in the cells we are studying. This way, we can study the cell’s function.

Searching for totality

The project uses the discovery of the brain’s sense of location as the starting point. The research group in Trondheim has mapped many different types of cells that work together in networks. So far, they have only established how the different types work, but not the function of the totality. But now they will.

They start off by gaining exact knowledge about how the brain estimates where we are. With the new gene technology, this is possible. The sense of locality is the first of the so-called higher cognitive abilities that we may be able to understand at a very basic level.

The project is highly interdisciplinary. The core elements are neurophysiology and neuropsychology measuring signals from many nervous cells at the same time as rats find their way through labyrinths.

European funding for basic research

The European Research Council (ERC) has two programmes for funding of top research. The first, introduced in 2007, is the ERC Starting Grants, that Norway received twice, both for the Kavli Institute. These grants provide substantial funding for new researchers so they can build up their own group.

The second programme is the ERC Advanced Investigators Grants, awarded to internationally leading researchers. Here, we are talking research that pushes research frontiers forward and contributes to scientific breakthroughs. The projects are typically innovative, path-breaking and high-risk, but with major scientific potential. The ERC Advanced Investigators Grant was awarded for the first time in 2008. The results for physics and the Humanities were presented earlier this year, but no Norwegian projects were awarded grants. The final group is the Life Sciences, where the Kavli Institute once again has been invited to contract negotiations. A total of 78 winners of the Advanced Grants are European, of which two are Norwegian. European neuroscience projects were awarded a total of 10 grants.

Edvard Moser | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ntnu.no
http://erc.europa.eu/pdf/NewsRelease_ERCAdG1_ResultsLS_131008.pdf

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

nachricht New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>