Scientists have developed a new tool that lights up active conversations between neurons during a behavior or sensory experience. To create labels that would persistently tag active synapses, the scientists split a fluorescent molecule in half, one half for the talking neuron (pre-) and one half for the listening neuron (post-). When an exchange occurs (i.e. the pre-synaptic neuron ‘fires’ a message), the two halves come together across the synapse and light up. Moreover, fluorescent molecules of three different colors allow unique labeling of different synapses in the same animal.
At first blush, reading the mind of the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster might seemingly not produce any profound insight toward philosophical and existential questions about our existence in the universe. However, many neuroscientists would look upon this view as provincial, since understanding the behavioral and sensory inputs from these insects may unlock many secrets of our own neurodevelopment.
Now, researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new method for lighting up active conversations between neurons when exposed to various external stimuli, such as smelling a banana. The scientists are hopeful that mapping these intricate patterns for individual neural connections will provide insights into the computational processes that underlie the workings of the human brain.
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