New Tools Developed For Brain Mapping; Should Boost Research into Depression, Dementia

Source: Florida Institute of Technology

Summary: Researchers have developed the fastest method to date for creating a key molecule used by neuroscientists in mapping brain activity.

The human brain is the most complex organ in the human body and is composed of over 85 billion neurons. Each of these neurons can be linked through up to 10,000 connections, known as synapses. Synaptic connections act like brain “switches” and release small molecules called neurotransmitters that pass along electrical signalsGlutamate is the most common neurotransmitter. It plays a critical role in brain activities related to emotion, cognition and memory. Therefore, neuroscientists are working to decode the brain to understand neurological disorders including depression and dementia, in part by studying “glutamatergic receptors,” where Glu is the molecule of interest. Researchers at Florida Institute of Technology have developed the fastest method to date for creating a key molecule used by neuroscientists at Columbia University in mapping brain activity. The study findings were published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Tool to map brain

The UV lamps in this photoreactor will activate the neurotransmitter glutamate, thus enabling it to serve as a powerful tool to map the brain. Credit: Florida Institute of Technology

To aid neuroscientists in mapping the enormously complex brain circuitry, researchers have used light to activate inactive, or “caged,” neurotransmitters in live brain tissue, including glutamate. The work will make the process of making caged Glu more effective, by cutting the number of steps in half and overall time by 80% while doubling the yields of previous methods. There were challenges that many scientists had with making these photo-responsive Glu tools. They also discovered ways to create two new versions of that molecule – a neurotransmitter called glutamate – that can further advance this critical field of study.

Prof. Nasri Nesnas said, “Our molecules to the neuroscientists are as valuable as cameras are to Google Maps” and further added, “We now have the fastest method to make the best cameras.”

More Information: Charitha Guruge et al, “Improved Synthesis of Caged Glutamate and Caging Each Functional Group”, ACS Chemical Neuroscience (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acschemneuro.8b00152 

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