Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have mapped most of a zebrafish brain using a technique that provides an illuminated view of individual cells and shows how the neurons are firing. The findings could prove useful in better understanding the brain's function. According to a recent Nature news article:
It is the first time that researchers have been able to image an entire vertebrate brain at the level of single cells.
The researchers are able to record activity across the whole fish brain almost every second, detecting 80% of its 100,000 neurons. (The rest lie in hard-to-access areas, such as between the eyes; their activity is visible but cannot be pinned down to single cells.)
The resolution offered by the zebrafish study will enable researchers to understand how different regions of the brain work together, says [Howard Hughes Medical Institute neurobiologist Misha Ahrens, PhD]. With conventional techniques, imaging even 2,000 neurons at once is difficult, so researchers must pick and choose which to look at, and extrapolate. Now, he says, “you don't need to guess what is happening — you can see it”.
The increased imaging power could, for example, help to explain how the brain coordinates movement, consolidates learning or processes sights and smells.
Results of the study were published yesterday in Nature Methods.
Previously: New tool for reading brain activity of mice could advance study of neurodegenerative diseases, 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 Zebrafish shed light on what happens when we sleep