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Tools help unlock brain mysteries

An advanced set of analytical tools is helping scientists unravel some of the brain’s deepest mysteries and open new horizons in stroke-related research. Developed by an international collaboration these tools provide a never-before look into cell types in the brain, says Associate Prof Ruth Empson, of the University of Otago physiology department who is part of the group. A part of the arsenal is a revolutionary $-1-million ”multi-photon microscope”, which uses infra-red light to see into living organs and cells with ”unparalleled detail and speed”.

The powerful new tools are expected to deepen our understanding of how different parts of the brain connect and communicate during behaviour in more detail. In addition it would help researchers, understand ”the significance of connectivity changes” among a specific group of motor neurons after a stroke.

Reported last week in Neuron the work of these scientists includes techniques that manipulate the genes of a small subset of cells and make them glow under fluorescent microscopes. The structure and function of different neurons types can be seen and studied by manipulating unique gene markers for each cell type into fluorescent labels or probe. Also cells are being made to fire a signal using a technique called optogenetics. Together, fluorescent imaging and optogenetic stimulation are helping reveal where specific cells were, when they were active and how they interacted with other cells.

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