Scientists’ Newest Discovery Gives Greater Insight into the World of Neuronal Communication

Ever wondered how your brain can process information, how that burning impulse was being transmitted from your fingertip to your brain, and back to your finger, which then mandates you to withdraw it from that hot surface that you touched unintentionally? Ever wondered about the processes that led to this action and other emergency responses you take? If you have, you were not alone because scientists also thought about it, and have been trying to understand the process too.

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Fused Fiber Light Emission and eXtracellular Recording (FFLEXR)

Fused Fiber Light Emission and eXtracellular Recording (FFLEXR). Image Courtesy of Research group of Ilka Diester.

A research team from Optophysiology Laboratory at the University of Freiburg, led by Prof. Dr. Ilka Diester and Dr. David Eriksson, is one such team of scientists that have taken it upon themselves to reveal the behind-the-scenes of these processes. They decided to carry out the study using optogenetics (the science of using light to study the neurons and other cell types).

The study

The team, together with Dr. Patrick Ruther of the Microsystems Engineering Department of the same university, is designing novel methods of controlling and recording the actions of the neurons in the brain via optogenetic techniques. They built thin optical fibers – the size of a cell – to easily invade and navigate into the highly electrical world of the brain. This device would be attached to silicon probes to enhance effective recordings of the happenings in the brain.

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They named the system Fused Fiber Light Emission and eXtracellular Recording (FFLEXR). Other devices they used for this study include a lightweight fiber matrix connector, a flexible multifiber ribbon cable, an optical commutator (to obtain maximum multichannel stimulation), a general-purpose patch cable, and an algorithm (to control the photovoltaic response). The thin optical fiber allowed them to penetrate the brain, and being attached to the silicon probe, they were able to get a recording of the activities of the neurons. This gave them a better insight into the brain, enhancing a better understanding of its actions.

During the period of the research, the team was able to develop novel and easier methods to obtain laminar recordings of the brain; to stimulate the brain using multifiber; to obtain a three-dimensional stimulation of the brain using light; to determine neuronal connectivity in the brain; and, to understand certain behaviors undertaken by the brain.

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Since the brain is a highly convoluted organ, it has not been quite easy for scientists, in the past, to study its neuronal activity in toto, particularly how one neuron communicates with another in the way that brings about man’s clear understanding and control of his environment. However, with this novel discovery made by this research team, a clearer picture of the brain’s world can now be seen.

Clinical significance

Understanding neuronal activity of the brain can go a long way in curbing the many occurring disorders of the brain. With this discovery, Doctors can now get a better view of the brain’s behavior and are better able to control its activities. This, therefore, can help them think up better prevention strategies, including treatment, for these brain disorders.

Conclusion

This study has laid the foundation for a better understanding of the brain’s behavior (neuronal actions). If the brain, being the coordinator of the body’s undertakings, can be controlled, it implies that scientists may be able to take control – to an extent – over the functions of the body. This can help preempt and prevent many anomalies in the body.

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References

Multichannel optogenetics combined with laminar recordings for ultra-controlled neuronal interrogation

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