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New tool for reading brain activity of mice could advance study of neurodegenerative diseases

Researchers at Stanford have developed a system for peering into the mind of a live mouse and observing its brain activity in real time. The technique, they say, could advance the study of new therapies for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

A Stanford Report story published today describes how scientists were able to record the interworkings of the animal's mind using a tiny microscope implanted above the mouse's hippocampus and a gene therapy approach that caused the mouse's neurons to express a green fluorescent protein. While the results can appear as randomly flashing green lights (see video above) Mark Schnitzer, PhD, an associate professor of biology and of applied physics, and colleagues have identified some clear patterns. As explained in the article:

The group has found that a mouse's neurons fire in the same patterns even when a month has passed between experiments. "The ability to come back and observe the same cells is very important for studying progressive brain diseases," Schnitzer said.

For example, if a particular neuron in a test mouse stops functioning, as a result of normal neuronal death or a neurodegenerative disease, researchers could apply an experimental therapeutic agent and then expose the mouse to the same stimuli to see if the neuron's function returns.

Although the technology can't be used on humans, mouse models are a common starting point for new therapies for human neurodegenerative diseases, and Schnitzer believes the system could be a very useful tool in evaluating pre-clinical research.

Previously: Animal study shows sleeping brain behaves as if it's remembering, Scientists turn mouse memory on and off with the flick of a switch and Scientists map effects of sleep deprivation on gene activity in the brain

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