With the assistance of headsets and backpacks on mice, scientists are using light to-switch nerve cells on and off within the rodents’ brains to probe the animals’ social behavior, a latest study shows.
These remote experiments are revealing new insights on the neural circuitry underlying social interactions, supporting previous work suggesting minds in sync are more cooperative, researchers report online May 10 in Nature Neuroscience.
The new devices believe optogenetics, a method in-which researchers use bursts of light-to activate or suppress the brain nerve cells, or neurons, often using tailored viruses to genetically modify cells in order that they respond illumination. Scientists have used optogenetics to probe neural circuits in mice and other lab animals to yield insights on how they could work in humans.
Optogenetic devices often feed light to neurons via fiber-optic cables, but such tethers can interfere with natural behaviors and social interactions. While scientists recently developed implantable wireless optogenetic devices, these depend upon relatively simple remote controls or limited sets of preprogrammed instructions.
These new fully implantable optogenetic arrays for mice and rats can enable more sophisticated research. Specifically, the researchers can adjust each device’s programming in-the course of experiments, “so you could target what an animal does in-far more complex way,” says Genia Kozorovitskiy, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
These head-mounted and back-mounted devices are battery-free, wirelessly powered by same-to-same high-frequency radio waves wont to remotely control the intensity, duration and timing of the light-pulses. The prototypes also allow scientists to simultaneously control four different neural circuits in an animal, because of LEDs that emit four hues — blue, green, yellow and red — rather than only one .
In experiments with mice, Kozorovitskiy and colleagues used the devices to focus on the prefrontal cortex, a-part of the brain linked with deciding and other complex behaviors. When the team delivered similar patterns of neural stimulation in-this area to pairs or trios of mice, the rodents groomed and sniffed companions with whom their neurons were in sync more often than ones with whom they were out of sync. The findings support previous research suggesting this type of synchrony between minds can boost social behavior, “particularly cooperative interactions,” Kozorovitskiy says.
The widely available wireless technology utilized in this work, same now utilized in contactless payment with credit cards, could allow broad adoption across the neuroscience community “without extensive specialized hardware,” says neurotechnologist Philipp Gutruf at the University of Arizona at Tucson, who didn’t participate in-this research. That “means that we’d see these devices in many labs within the near future, enabling new discoveries.” The insights gained on nervous-system from such research, he says, may-in-turn “inform better diagnostics and therapeutics in humans.”
This research published on Nature Neuroscience.