New technique allows 3-D peek at neurons

April 28th, 2008 - 11:51 am ICT by admin  


Washington, April 28 (IANS) A new technique combining a fast-moving laser beam with a special microscope to look at tissues in different optical planes will enable scientists to get a 3-D view of neurons or nerve cells as they interact, “Most microscopes can only study cell function in two dimensions,” said Gaddum Duemani Reddy, clinician at Rice University and co-author of the study. “To look at different planes, you have to move your preparation (of cells) or the objective lens. That takes time, and we are looking at processes that happen in milliseconds.”

To solve that problem, he said, they developed a “trick” to quickly move a laser beam in three dimensions and then adapted that laser beam to the multi-photon microscope they were using. That allowed them to “see” the neuron’s function in three dimensions, giving them a much better view of its activity.

A multi-photon microscope looks much like a conventional, upright microscope but has an adaptation that allows it to look at tissues in sections. A conventional multi-photon microscope does that very slowly, he said.

“With ours, you can do it very quickly. We are starting to see how a single neuron behaves in our laboratory.” The next step, he said, will be to use it to look at clusters or colonies of neurons. This will enable them to actually see the neuronal interactions.

“At present, the technology is applied in my lab to study information processing of single neurons in brain slice preparations by 3D multi-site optical recording,” said Peter Saggau, professor of neuroscience at BCM and the paper’s senior author.

He is collaborating with two other labs on using the technology in other ways. In one, he said, researchers plan to use the technology to monitor nerve activity in the brains of lab animals in order study how populations of neurons communicate during visual stimulation.

Their report was published Saturday in Nature Neuroscience.

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