A team of MIT and Stanford University researchers has developed a way to label neurons when they become active, essentially providing a snapshot of their activity at a moment in time. This approach could offer significant new insights into neuron function by offering greater temporal precision than current cell-labeling techniques, which capture activity across time windows of hours or days.
“A thought or a cognitive function usually lasts 30 seconds or a minute. That’s the range of what we’re hoping to be able to capture,” says Kay Tye, an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, a member of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and one of the senior authors of the study, which appears in Nature Biotechnology on June 26.
Tye envisions that this tool could be used to help decipher the neural circuits involved in learning and memory, among many other possibilities.
She developed the technology with former MIT Professor Alice Ting, who is now a professor of genetics and biology at Stanford and is also a senior author of the paper. The paper’s lead author is Wenjing Wang, a Stanford postdoc.