"For a minute, think of the brain like a car battery," Enquist said. "The Brainbow virus will let us label all of the wires in the car that connect to the battery, but to label those that connect to the radio in a different color from the rest of the circuit."
In addition to the Brainbow technology, the research team is adding genetic instructions to the virus that tell cells to produce a special fluorescent protein that gets brighter in the presence of calcium, the levels of which rise inside neurons when they are sending signals. This technology, which is being refined in Wang's lab, will allow the researchers to mark neural circuits and watch them work, according to Enquist.
"To continue the analogy, our viral tracer should not only label the wires to the radio in a different color, but also cause them to glow as power travels through them," he said.
Beyond using the Brainbow virus to study the structure and function of neural circuits in living mice, the researchers intend to investigate simple neural circuits built in the lab to understand how they function in a less complicated environment. Jason Puchalla, a faculty member in Princeton's physics department, is fabricating microfluidic devices on which the researchers will grow neurons and explore how they function. This will provide opportunities for the scientists to learn more about how alpha herpes viruses spread, which has implications for treatment of these infectious diseases. At the same time, increasing the fundamental understanding of how neurons connect to one another may generate new insights into neurological disorders, which can arise when normal neural circuitry is disturbed.
"The Brainbow project is characteristic of Lynn Enquist's ability to see beyond the horizon a
|Contact: Kitta MacPherson|