NOMIS Awardee Karl Deisseroth and colleague Alice Ting, together with their research teams, have developed a molecular probe that could lead to a better understanding of the cellular basis of behavior.
Stanford researchers develop new tool for watching and controlling neural activity
BY TAYLOR KUBOTA
A new molecular probe from Stanford University could help reveal how our brains think and remember. This tool, called Fast Light and Calcium-Regulated Expression or FLiCRE (pronounced “flicker”), can be sent inside any cell to perform a variety of research tasks, including tagging, recording and controlling cellular functions.
“This work gets at a central goal of neuroscience: How do you find the system of neurons that underlie a thought or cognitive process? Neuroscientists have been wanting this type of tool for a long time,” said Alice Ting, professor of genetics in the Stanford School of Medicine and of biology in the School of Humanities and sciences, whose team co-led this work with the lab of Stanford psychiatrist and bioengineer, Karl Deisseroth.
In proof-of-concept experiments, detailed in a paper published Dec. 11 in Cell, the researchers used FLiCRE to take a snapshot of neural activity associated with avoidance behavior in mice. By coupling the FLiCRE snapshot with RNA sequencing, they discovered that these activated neurons primarily belonged to a single cell type, which was inaccessible using genetic tools alone. They then used FLiCRE in combination with an opsin – a protein for controlling neural activity with light developed by Deisseroth – to reactivate those same neurons a day later, which led the mice to avoid entering a certain room. The brain region the researchers studied, called the nucleus accumbens, is thought to play an important role in human psychiatric diseases, including depression.
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D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Discovering the Causal Principles Underlying Brain-wide Dynamics
NOMIS RESEARCH PROJECT