Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Worm-tracking challenge leads to new tool for brain research

04.10.2011
University of Oregon neuroscientists team with scientific-imaging company to catch worm neurons in action

Using new optical equipment, a team of 11 researchers put roundworms into a world of virtual reality, monitored both their behavior and brain activity and gained unexpected information on how the organism's brain operates as it moves.

The new research tracking system -- created in collaboration with Eugene-based Applied Scientific Instrumentation Inc. (ASI) -- should help neuroscientists around the world who use other small organisms, such as fruit flies and zebra fish, in their studies to understand how the central nervous system is tied to behavior, said Shawn R. Lockery, professor of biology and director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.

In a paper in the online journal PLoS ONE, a publication of the Public Library of Science, researchers detail how the dual camera tool works and how they used it in experiments with freely moving roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans).

The research team, led by Serge Faumont, a senior research associate in the Institute of Neuroscience, found that certain neurons remain active as roundworms move forward and backward. Researchers had theorized that some neurons would be active when moving forward and then shut down as another set of neurons engaged when the animal reversed.

This basic-level research provides a window in which scientists can explore links between the brain and behavior, how neuronal activity might be organized and how genetic mutations may affect connections more broadly, such as in mental illness in humans, Faumont and Lockery said.

"We want to understand the physical basis of thinking, in particular of consciousness," Lockery said. "But we don't have access to another person's or animal's thoughts directly. The only access we have is through behavior."

The roundworm-human connection is genetically strong, Faumont noted. "Sixty percent of the genome of C-elegans is conserved in humans," he said. "You can knock out a gene in a worm, and know that that gene has a human version."

"Studies like this, with this nematode, which has only 302 neurons and about 5,000 synapses," Lockery said, "are important because biologists have repeatedly discovered that evolution is conservative -- that there are very strong relationships in terms of molecules and mechanisms, including those in the brain, between simple organisms and humans."

Using simple organisms, he said, allows researchers to potentially gain a complete understanding of a brain, "whereas we may never fully understand the human brain." Gaining insights on where modularity exists -- and where it breaks down -- provides fundamental insights that can guide researchers studying the brains of more complicated animals, Lockery said.

The device allowed roundworms, specially bred with neurons containing fluorescence, to move about freely and naturally on a specially lubricated platform in an environment watched over by cameras that keep the animals centered -- and all of their brain activity and movements recordable. That is the magic of the system, Lockery said. Keeping the target sites fully centered and constantly observable to catch all complexities had been a barrier, Faumont said.

"Imagine looking at a squirrel with a pair of powerful binoculars, and all you can see is an eye," Faumont said. "You are trying to keep the eye of the squirrel centered while the squirrel is doing an activity and jumping around. This represents a complex tracking problem."

The sensitive microscopy device created by Lockery's lab and ASI keeps the roundworms' fluorescently lit neurons centered in a constant field-of-view and monitored as they move about at speeds of up to 500 microns, or about one-half millimeter a second. Two specialty cameras -- based on ASI's Phototrack system -- provide for synchronized viewing and recording that captures simultaneously neuronal activity and behavior.

In the team's virtual reality experiment, roundworms were placed in an environment in which a blue laser would trigger an avoidance response in neurons known to react to a perceived toxin, by recoiling or reversing to avoid danger. In the absence of the blue light, animals moved freely. "This experiment provides proof-of-concept for creating high-resolution virtual environments for exploring the neuronal control of behavior in freely crawling organisms," the team wrote.

Lockery approached ASI, which was founded in 1990, about the tracking challenge during an international neuroscience meeting in 2006. The ensuing collaboration resulted in a highly sensitive tracking system that ASI owns and that Lockery's lab gets to use and help improve. The company manufactures electro-mechanical devices that are used around the world by cell biologists, neuroscientists, pharmaceutical companies and material scientists.

Neither Lockery nor the University of Oregon holds a financial interest in the device. "This has been a perfect collaboration between industry and academic research," Lockery said. Such collaborations, said study co-author Gary Rondeau, ASI's technical director, help to keep ASI on the cutting edge for new product development.

"We are frequently asked to look at new special applications," Rondeau said. "This keeps the work fresh and aimed at the constantly changing needs of our customers in the research community. Some projects, like this one, are just fun. It's nice to use our talents to develop new ways to achieve scientific goals that haven't been possible before. Talking over details of experiments with creative researchers such as Shawn and Serge is always stimulating, and then seeing things come together is very satisfying."

The National Institutes of Health supported the research.

The nine co-authors with Faumont and Lockery were: Gary Rondeau, ASI technical director; UO doctoral students Tod R. Thiele and Kathryn E. McCormick; UO undergraduate Kristy J. Lawton (now a graduate student at Cornell University); Matthew Sottile of Galois Inc., in Portland, Ore.; Oliver Griesbeck of Max-Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, Germany; Ellie S. Heckscher and Chris Q. Doe, Howard Hughes Medical Institute-supported researchers at the UO; and William M. Roberts, professor of biology and member of the Institute of Neuroscience.

About the University of Oregon:

The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

Sources: Shawn Lockery, professor of biology, director of the Institute of Neuroscience, 541-346-4590, shawn@uoregon.edu, and Serge Faumont, senior research associate, Institute of Neuroscience, 541- 346-4592, serge@uoregon.edu

Audio Clip: Shawn Lockery on value of this kind of research: http://comm.uoregon.edu/files/pmr/uploads/TheseStudies.mp3

Web Links:

Lockery faculty page: http://www.neuro.uoregon.edu/ionmain/htdocs/faculty/lockery.html

Lockery Lab: http://chinook.uoregon.edu/index.html

Institute of Neuroscience: http://www.neuro.uoregon.edu/

Biology Department: http://biology.uoregon.edu/

Applied Scientific Instrumentation: http://www.asiimaging.com/

Follow UO Science on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/UniversityOfOregonScience

Jim Barlow | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uoregon.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New yeast species discovered in Braunschweig, Germany
13.12.2019 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH

nachricht Saliva test shows promise for earlier and easier detection of mouth and throat cancer
13.12.2019 | Elsevier

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Virus multiplication in 3D

Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies. Two studies now provide fascinating insights into their unusual propagation strategy at the atomic level.

For viruses to multiply, they usually need the support of the cells they infect. In many cases, only in their host’s nucleus can they find the machines,...

Im Focus: Cheers! Maxwell's electromagnetism extended to smaller scales

More than one hundred and fifty years have passed since the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865). What would our lives be without this publication?

It is difficult to imagine, as this treatise revolutionized our fundamental understanding of electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The twenty original...

Im Focus: Highly charged ion paves the way towards new physics

In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.

Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...

Im Focus: Ultrafast stimulated emission microscopy of single nanocrystals in Science

The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.

Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...

Im Focus: How to induce magnetism in graphene

Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

The Future of Work

03.12.2019 | Event News

First International Conference on Agrophotovoltaics in August 2020

15.11.2019 | Event News

Laser Symposium on Electromobility in Aachen: trends for the mobility revolution

15.11.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supporting structures of wind turbines contribute to wind farm blockage effect

13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Chinese team makes nanoscopy breakthrough

13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Tiny quantum sensors watch materials transform under pressure

13.12.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>