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Virus 'explorers' probe inner workings of the brain
Date:6/28/2010

member Samuel Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. "It's as if you could immediately tell on Facebook the difference between 'friends' and 'friends of friends.' And when we add proteins that get brighter when neurons are active, now our little labels tell us not only where a neuron is, but what it is doing. Combined with microscopy, it's like seeing all your Facebook friends' status updates at once, in real time -- basically watching the whole conversation at once."

Chemicals exist that can be used to trace brain connectivity, including certain molecules from the horseradish plant and the cholera toxin, but they become increasingly dilute as they spread throughout the brain, just as a drop of food coloring disperses in a cup of water. Other chemicals can change brightness or color when a neuron is active, but they label all cells indiscriminately, leading to a murky image. Because viruses replicate, they are self-amplifying and do not become less concentrated as they move away from their entry point into the brain, making them a promising tool for researchers seeking to probe the hidden depths of the brain. Viruses also can target subsets of neurons, making them glow -- and therefore stand out -- in sharp relief. Enquist and his collaborators presently are conducting laboratory experiments in test tubes and mice as they seek to increase fundamental knowledge about neural connectivity, which has significant implications for understanding the human brain.

The Princeton-led team's virus of choice is pseudorabies virus (PRV), which normally infects pigs but can also attack a variety of other organisms, including chickens and rodents. PRV does not infect people, but it is a member of the alpha herpes virus family, which includes the viruses that cause chicken pox and cold sores in humans.

To make the virus capable of coloring brain cells as it infects them, team membe
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Contact: Kitta MacPherson
kittamac@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert

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