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[Narrator] To preform any kind of brain function neurons
must communicate with one another through electrical
signals. Those signals require a production of calcium which
neuroscientists can image to study how the brain acts and
reacts to the outside world.
[Guoping Feng] In our brain we have billions of neurons.
They form precise patterns of connections and they
communicate precisely with one another. This precise
connection and communication allow us to precisely sense
the outside world and also allow us to respond to the
outside world properly.
[Narrator] Until now researchers have been unable to use
calcium imaging with specific cells in isolation. A team
at MIT has created a new system of imaging that can be
targeted to specific cell types.
[Guoping Feng] So in general when you have a brain and
you look at it you wouldn't see anything. This is a brain
slice actually, but you wouldn't see anything. So this
technique allows whenever the neuron fires it will show a
green fluorescence. The way this technology works is by
genetically engineering the neurons; let them express a
protein which is sensitive to neuronal activity. So that's
how we can see the neurons firing. So this green
florescence will allow us to monitor different patterns of
neuronal activity, how behaviors trigger the neurons to have
very unique patterns, and especially will allow us to use
animal models to study the abnormal patterns in neuronal
activity in psychiatric disorders.
[Narrator] This system can provide new insight into the
origins of diseases such as autism and obsessive
compulsive disorder.