Molecular method shows neuronal basis of brain states

Researchers find similar cell types and brain circuits in zebra fish and mice, whose evolutionary ancestors split hundreds of millions of years ago.
By Amy Wallace  |  Nov. 3, 2017 at 11:37 AM
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Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have revealed brain circuitry that is vital for alertness and vigilance, and brain states conserved through evolution.

NIH, NIMH and Stanford University researchers used a neural activity screening technology called Multiplexed-alignment of Molecular and Activity Phenotypes, or Multi-MAP, to see which neurons are activated in an animal during a particular brain state and molecularly analyzed specific neurons to identify the circuits and subtypes involved.

Researchers found similar cell types and brain circuits in zebra fish and mice, whose evolutionary ancestors split hundreds of millions of years ago.

In studies on zebra fish, the researchers used the Multi-MAP technique to screen the activity of neurons through the transparent heads of genetically-engineered larval and determined vigilance by measuring how long it took the fish to move their tails in response to threatening stimuli.

The study, published today in Cell, identified six suspect circuits made up of distinct populations of neurons that modulate neuronal activity. Just one of those was previously linked to vigilance. Similar results were found in mice experiments.

The team then used optogenetics, a technique to use light to control neurons, to identify three brain circuits that boost alertness in mice.

"Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression," Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, said in a press release.

"Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior -- as this new tool promises -- may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states."

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