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

r Oren Kobiler, a postdoctoral research fellow in Enquist's lab, is incorporating into its genetic material a cell-marking technique known as Brainbow. The technology was developed at Harvard University by a research team led by Jean Livet, Joshua Sanes and Jeff Lichtman, and first reported in a 2007 issue of the journal Nature. Brainbow works by inserting into neurons three genes that direct the production of blue, green and red fluorescent proteins. There are some 90 possible hues that can be made from different combinations of the blue, green and red proteins, and the color of a given neuron is determined by the specific amount of each color being made by the cell.

The Brainbow technique also incorporates into neurons a genetic mechanism that randomly mixes and matches the genes that direct the production of the blue, green and red proteins. This shuffling system is activated by the presence of a protein called CRE, which causes neurons that produce CRE to turn different colors from other neurons around them.

By inserting Brainbow into a virus, the research team is hoping to design a viral tracer with capabilities that exceed conventional viral tracers being used today, he explained. Current tracers are able to map out entire circuits, but they cannot distinguish among different sections within a given circuit.

Enquist and his collaborators are using genetic engineering techniques to direct certain neurons, such as those that control a particular body function, to produce CRE. When the neurons that have been engineered to make CRE are infected by the new viral tracer, they will be different colors from infected neurons that are not making CRE. This will allow the researchers to see different subcircuits in the brain, Enquist explained.

For example, he is working with J. Patrick Card, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, to make neurons in the brainstem involved in blood pressure regulation in mice produce CRE. W
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Contact: Kitta MacPherson
kittamac@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert

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