Puzzling out how the brain turns electrical pulses into ‘thoughts, actions and emotions’

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MIT Brain Rhythms
Image credit: MIT

Neuroscientists have tried for decades to observe the swift electrical signals that are a major component of the brain’s language. Although electrodes, the workhorse for measuring voltage, can reliably record the activity of individual neurons, they struggle to capture the signals of many, particularly for prolonged periods. But in the past two decades, scientists have found a way to embed fluorescent, voltage-indicating proteins right into the cell membranes of neurons.

As these proteins improve, and advances in microscopy make it easier to see them, scientists hope to illuminate neuroscience’s biggest puzzle: how the brain’s cells work together to transform a system of electrical pulses into thoughts, actions and emotions.

In the past year, [Biophysicist Adam] Cohen and his colleagues developed new [genetically encoded voltage indicators] and improved microscopy techniques to record such sub-threshold voltage changes from many neurons at once, including in the mouse brain.

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The ability to know exactly which neurons are being recorded and to keep track of them over time allows researchers to look at the wiring between those neurons, says Ed Boyden, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. By doing so, “you can link the structure of the brain with its function”, he says. “That’s one of the core questions in all neuroscience.”

Read full, original post: A new way to capture the brain’s electrical symphony

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