Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Capturing brain activity with sculpted light

09.09.2013
Researchers in Vienna develop new imaging technique to study the function of entire nervous systems

Scientists at the Campus Vienna Biocenter (Austria) have found a way to overcome some of the limitations of light microscopy. Applying the new technique, they can record the activity of a worm’s brain with high temporal and spatial resolution, ultimately linking brain anatomy to brain function. The journal Nature Methods publishes the details in its current issue.


Frontal part of a nematode seen throgh a microscope. The neurons of the worm’s “brain” are coloured in green. Above are the discs of light generated by the WF-TeFo mikroscope, scanning the brain area and recording the activity of certain neurons (artist’s interpretation). IMP

A major aim of today’s neuroscience is to understand how an organism’s nervous system processes sensory input and generates behavior. To achieve this goal, scientists must obtain detailed maps of how the nerve cells are wired up in the brain, as well as information on how these networks interact in real time.

The organism many neuroscientists turn to in order to study brain function is a tiny, transparent worm found in rotting soil. The simple nematode C. elegans is equipped with just 302 neurons that are connected by roughly 8000 synapses. It is the only animal for which a complete nervous system has been anatomically mapped.

Researchers have so far focused on studying the activity of single neurons and small networks in the worm, but have not been able to establish a functional map of the entire nervous system. This is mainly due to limitations in the imaging-techniques they employ: the activity of single cells can be resolved with high precision, but simultaneously looking at the function of all neurons that comprise entire brains has been a major challenge. Thus, there was always a trade-off between spatial or temporal accuracy and the size of brain regions that could be studied.

Scientists at Vienna’s Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP), the Max Perutz Laboratories (MFPL), and the Research Platform Quantum Phenomena & Nanoscale Biological Systems (QuNaBioS) of the University of Vienna have now closed this gap and developed a high speed imaging technique with single neuron resolution that bypasses these limitations. In a paper published online in Nature Methods, the teams of Alipasha Vaziri and Manuel Zimmer describe the technique which is based on their ability to “sculpt” the three-dimensional distribution of light in the sample. With this new kind of microscopy, they are able to record the activity of 70% of the nerve cells in a worm’s head with high spatial and temporal resolution.

“Previously, we would have to scan the focused light by the microscope in all three dimensions”, says quantum physicist Robert Prevedel. “That takes far too long to record the activity of all neurons at the same time. The trick we invented tinkers with the light waves in a way that allows us to generate “discs” of light in the sample. Therefore, we only have to scan in one dimension to get the information we need. We end up with three-dimensional videos that show the simultaneous activities of a large number of neurons and how they change over time.” Robert Prevedel is a Senior Postdoc in the lab of Alipasha Vaziri, who is an IMP-MFPL Group Leader and is heading the Research Platform Quantum Phenomena & Nanoscale Biological Systems (QuNaBioS) of the University of Vienna, where the new technique was developed.

However, the new microscopic method is only half the story. Visualising the neurons requires tagging them with a fluorescent protein that lights up when it binds to calcium, signaling the nerve cells’ activity. “The neurons in a worm’s head are so densely packed that we could not distinguish them on our first images”, explains neurobiologist Tina Schrödel, co-first author of the study. “Our solution was to insert the calcium sensor into the nuclei rather than the entire cells, thereby sharpening the image so we could identify single neurons.” Tina Schrödel is a Doctoral Student in the lab of the IMP Group Leader Manuel Zimmer.

The new technique that came about by a close collaboration of physicists and neurobiologists has great potentials beyond studies in worms, according to the researchers. It will open up the way for experiments that were not possible before. One of the questions that will be addressed is how the brain processes sensory information to “plan” specific movements and then executes them. This ambitious project will require further refinement of both the microscopy methods and computational methods in order to study freely moving animals. The team in Vienna is set to achieve this goal in the coming two years.

Publication in Nature Methods:
Tina Schrödel, Robert Prevedel, Karin Aumayr, Manuel Zimmer and Alipasha Vaziri: Brain-wide 3D imaging of neuronal activity in Caenorhabditis elegans with sculpted light. Nature Methods (September 2013). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.2637
About the IMP
The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna is a basic biomedical research institute largely sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. With over 200 scientists from 30 nations, the IMP is committed to scientific discovery of fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying complex biological phenomena. Research areas include cell and molecular biology, neurobiology, disease mechanisms and computational biology.
About MFPL
The Max F. Perutz Laboratories (MFPL) are a center established by the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna to provide an environment for excellent, internationally recognized research and education in the field of Molecular Biology. Currently, the MFPL host around 60 independent research groups, involving more than 500 people from 40 nations.
Scientific Contact:
Ass. Prof. Dr. Alipasha Vaziri
Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP)
Max F. Perutz Laboratories (MFPL) and Research Platform Quantum Phenomena & Nanoscale Biological Systems (QuNaBioS), Universität Wien
T +43-1-79730-3540
alipasha.vaziri@univie.ac.at
Dr. Manuel Zimmer
Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP)
T +43-1-79730-3430
manuel.zimmer@imp.ac.at
Press Contact:
Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl
IMP Communications
T +43-1-79730-3625
hurtl@imp.ac.at

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw
Further information:
http://www.imp.ac.at/research/research-groups/vaziri-group/
http://www.imp.ac.at/research/research-groups/zimmer-group/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation
19.01.2018 | Carnegie Institution for Science

nachricht Artificial agent designs quantum experiments
19.01.2018 | Universität Innsbruck

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | 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

 
Latest News

Let the good tubes roll

19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>