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Blinking neurons give thoughts away
Date:5/5/2010

Electrical currents are invisible to the naked eye at least they are when they flow through metal cables. In nerve cells, however, scientists are able to make electrical signals visible. Working with fellow experts from Switzerland and Japan, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg successfully used a specialized fluorescent protein to visualize electrical activity in neurons of living mice. In a milestone study, scientists are able to apply the method to watch activity in nerve cells during animal behaviour. (Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 29 April 2010)

Neurons communicate with one another via so-called action potentials. During an action potential, voltage-gated calcium channels are opened resulting in rapid calcium ion influx. Because of this tight coupling, fluorescent calcium indicator proteins can visualize action potentials. These proteins have two fluorescent subunits, one of which radiates yellow light and the other blue. When the proteins bind calcium, the proportion of yellow to blue light changes. Colour variation from blue light towards yellow thus reports different calcium levels which is why the protein has been dubbed a "cameleon".

Measuring action potentials optically

With the cameleon protein YC3.60, a fairly new variant, the scientists succeeded in recording the reaction of nerve cells to sensory stimuli in the intact brain of mice: every time the whiskers were deflected by a puff of air, there was a change of colour in the cameleon proteins in the nerve cells of the sensory areas of the cortex. It could therefore be deduced that the affected cells had reacted to the stimulus with action potentials. "The cameleon protein YC3.60 gives us the ability to measure action potentials not only in brain slices, but also in the intact brain. The molecule reacts quickly and sensitively and also captures changes in calcium concentrations occurring in rapid sequence," expla
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Contact: Mazahir T. Hasan
mazahir.hasan@mpimf-heidelberg.mpg.de
49-622-148-6617
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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