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New UCLA-designed microscope records firing of thousands of individual neurons in 3-D
Date:1/12/2011

Some disorders of the brain are obvious the massive death of brain cells after a stroke, the explosion in the growth of cells that marks a tumor. Other disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia and mental retardation show no physical signs of damage and are believed to be caused by problems in how brain cells communicate with one another.

To understand the root of the problem of these latter diseases, visualizing brain activity is key. But even the best imaging devices available fMRIs and PET scans can only give a "coarse" picture of brain activity.

UCLA neuroscientists have now collaborated with physicists to develop a non-invasive, ultrahigh-speed microscope that can record in real time the firing of thousands of individual neurons in the brain as they communicate, or miscommunicate, with each other.

"In our view, this is the world's fastest two-photon excitation microscope for three-dimensional imaging in vivo," said UCLA physics professor Katsushi Arisaka, who designed the new optical imaging system with UCLA assistant professor of neurology and neurobiology Dr. Carlos Portera-Cailliau and colleagues.

Their research appears in the Jan. 9 edition of the journal Nature Methods.

Because neuropsychiatric diseases like autism and mental retardation often display no physical brain damage, it's thought they are caused by conductivity problems neurons not firing properly. Normal cells have patterns of electrical activity, said Portera-Cailliau, but abnormal cell activity as a whole doesn't generate relevant information the brain can use.

"One of the greatest challenges for neuroscience in the 21st century is to understand how the billions of neurons that form the brain communicate with one another to produce complex behaviors," he said. "The ultimate benefit from this type of research will come from deciphering how dysfunctional patterns of activity among neurons lead to devastating symptoms
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Contact: Mark Wheeler
mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2265
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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