Source: California Institute of Technology
Summary: Researchers have developed a method to easily see neural connections and the flow of communications in real time within living flies. The work is a step forward toward creating a map of the entire fly brain’s many connections, which could help scientists understand the neural circuits within human brains as well.
The human brain is composed of billions of neurons wired together in the form of intricate webs. When two neurons connect, they link together to form a structure called a synapse, space through which one neuron communicates with other neuron either electrically or chemically. Although neuroscientists have made progress in understanding the brain but visualizing the entire “wiring diagram” of neural connections throughout a brain is not possible using currently available methods. Caltech researchers, using Drosophila fruit flies, have developed a method to easily see neural connections and the flow of communications in real time within living flies. The work is a step forward toward creating a map of the entire fly brain’s many connections, which could help scientists understand the neural circuits within human brains as well. The study findings were published in the journal eLife.
The research team has developed a method for tracing the flow of information across synapses, called TRACT (Transneuronal Control of Transcription). Many neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia, are thought to be caused by altered connections between neurons. This method allows the researchers to observe which neurons are “talking” and which neurons are “listening” by prompting the connected neurons to produce glowing proteins. The binding of the signal protein activates the receptor and triggers the neuron it’s attached to in order to produce its own, differently colored fluorescent protein. TRACT can be localized to focus in on the wiring of any particular neural circuit of interest, such as those that control movement, hunger, or vision.
Prof. Carlos Lois said, “TRACT is a new tool that will allow us to create wiring diagrams of brains and determine the function of connected neurons”, “This information will provide important clues towards understanding the complex workings of the human brain and its diseases.”
More Information: Ting-hao Huang et al, “Tracing neuronal circuits in transgenic animals by transneuronal control of transcription (TRACT)”, eLife (2017). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.32027