Research News Winter 2018 Issue 43
by Julie Pryor | December 18, 2017
Recording electrical signals from inside a neuron in the living brain can reveal a great deal of information, but it is very difficult, and only a handful of labs worldwide have the expertise to perform such recordings. To make this technique more widely available, Ed Boyden and his collaborators have devised a way to automate the process, using a computer algorithm that analyzes microscope images and guides a robotic arm to the target cell. This technology will allow more scientists to study single neurons and learn how they interact with other cells to enable cognition, perception, and other brain functions. Read the full story >>
Mothers who experience an infection severe enough to require hospitalization during pregnancy are at higher risk of having a child with autism. Two new studies from the lab of Gloria Choi and collaborators at the University of Massachusetts Medical School shed more light on this phenomenon and identify possible approaches to preventing it. Read the full story >>
Feng Zhang, who first harnessed CRISPR for genome editing, has engineered a new CRISPR-based system for editing RNA in human cells. This method makes it possible to repair mutated RNAs and proteins without altering the genome itself. Zhang describes the new system, called RNA Editing for programmable A to I Replacement, or “REPAIR.” The system can change single RNA nucleotides in mammalian cells in a precise fashion. REPAIR has the ability to reverse disease-causing mutations at the RNA level, with profound implications for both research and disease treatment. Read the full story >>
Nancy Kanwisher’s lab collaborated with neurosurgeons in Japan to examine the coding of visual information in the human cerebral cortex. An epilepsy patient was implanted (for clinical reasons) with an array of cortical electrodes, allowing the researchers to locate regions that respond specifically to faces or to colors. When these areas were electrically stimulated, the patient reported seeing illusory faces or rainbow colors, with no other perceptual effects, supporting the idea that these regions are specifically involved in single mental processes.
Making decisions is not always easy, especially when choosing between two options that have both positive and negative elements. Researchers in Ann Graybiel’s lab have now discovered that making decisions in this type of situation, known as a cost-benefit conflict, is dramatically affected by chronic stress. In a study of mice, they found that stressed animals were far likelier to choose high-risk, high-payoff options. Read the full story >>