Guest post from Neuroscience graduate student Amielle Moreno.
Why do scientists know more about the brain during fear than love? Behaviors such as startling and freezing in response to a fearful stimulus are rapid, vary little between subjects, and are easy to interpret. Things get messy when individuals show variability. Social behavior, like intimate partner selection and mating, has a lot of variability. To researchers willing to explore the neuroscience of love and mating, the stage is set for major discoveries.
A recent research study published in Nature from the Liu and Young laboratories at Emory and Yerkes uncovered a dynamic conversation between two brain regions during intimate behavior. The new findings in prairie voles explore the brain connections behind social connections. Read more
Optogenetics has taken neuroscience by storm in recent years because the technique allows scientists to study the brain conveniently in animals, activating or inhibiting selected groups of neurons at the flip of a switch.Â Most often, scientists use a fiber optic cable to deliver light into the brain.
Researchers at Emory and Georgia Tech have developed tools that could allow neuroscientists to put aside the fiber optic cable, and use a glowing protein from coral as the light source instead.
Biomedical engineering student Jack Tung and neurosurgeon/neuroscientist Robert Gross, MD, PhD have dubbed these tools â€œinhibitory luminopsinsâ€ because they inhibit neuronal activity both in response to light and to a chemical supplied from outside.
A demonstration of the luminopsinsâ€™ capabilities was published September 24 in the journal Scientific Reports.Â The authors show that these tools enabled them to modulate neuronal firing, both in culture and in vivo, and modify the behavior of live animals.
Tung and Gross are now using inhibitory luminopsins to study ways to halt or prevent seizure activity in animals.
â€œWe think that this approach may be particularly useful for modeling treatments for generalized seizures and seizures that involve multiple areas of the brain,â€ Tung says. â€œWeâ€™re also working on making luminopsins responsive to seizure activity: turning on the light only when it is needed, in a closed-loop feedback controlled fashion.â€ More here. Read more
Welcome to a feature of Lab Land we hope to have on a regular basis! Itâ€™s where we explain a word or phrase that is a hot topic of discussion in the science online world and particularly relevant to research going on at Emory.
Optogenetics allows researchers to stimulate specific brain cells with light. It involves introducing light-sensitive proteins from algae into the brain cells of mice, and then using a fiber optic cable to apply a laser signal to the relevant region of the brain.
Optogenetics is a leap beyond previous genetic engineering techniques that made it possible to turn on (or delete) a gene by feeding a mouse some extraneous chemical, such as the antibiotic tetracycline or the anti-hormone tamoxifen. Instead of wondering how long it takes that chemical to make its way into the brain, scientists can literally flick a switch and see near-instantaneous and localized effects. Read more