on September 4th, 2014 No Comments
I write a lot about news developments in which scientists learn new things about the body – how diseases develop or can be treated, how genes and proteins in our bodies make us who we are, how different areas of the brain work together to help us learn, remember and interact with our environment.
Yesterday I wrote a story in which the scientists learned that they have more work to do.
It all started when Joanna Mattis was looking for a PhD project. She had been working in the lab of bioengineer Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, helping to develop optogenetics. At the time, that was an entirely new tool that scientists could use to turn parts of the brain on and off to see what happens. Mattis wanted to use optogenetics to map the wiring of two regions of the brain that were known to work together to help develop a spatial map of the environment. Those two regions are known as the hippocampus and the septum.
Some of the expertise needed to do this project didn’t exist in the Deisseroth lab. Mattis got a fellowship through Stanford Bio-X that specifically allows students to work with multiple mentors – Mattis added neuroscientist John Huguenard, PhD, – bringing interdisciplinary expertise together to solve problems. In this case, those combined expertise didn’t so much solve a problem as create a new one.
What they found is that nerves in the hippocampus create one reaction in the septum if they fire slowly and a completely different reaction of they fire quickly. It was like learning that the wiring diagram of the brain shifts depending on how the brain sends signals.
Mattis told me, “There’s a lot of excitement about being able to make a map of the brain with the idea that if we could figure out how it is all connected we could understand how it works. It turns out it’s so much more dynamic than that.”
She said that next steps will include learning how widespread this type of wiring is throughout the brain, and understanding how it ties back to learning and memory.
Previously: Optogenetics: Offering new insights into brain disorders
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