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Seeing the Brain's Electrical Activity

By MIT News

February 27, 2018

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have developed a light-sensitive protein capable of embedding itself within neuron membranes, where it discharges a fluorescent signal that indicates how much voltage a particular cell is experiencing.

The researchers generated 1.5 million mutated versions of a light-sensitive protein, and then placed each gene into mammalian cells; they then cultured the cells and employed an automated microscope to take pictures. A robot identified cells with proteins that met the desired criteria, and the batch was further refined until a top-performing protein candidate was produced.

The team believes this breakthrough could enable scientists to study millisecond-scale neuron behavior as the brain performs a specific function.

"We will be able to watch a neural computation happen," predicts MIT professor Edward Boyden. "Over the next five years or so we're going to try to solve some small brain circuits completely."

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