Research News Spring 2018 Issue 44

Research News


Ed Boyden and colleagues at Paris Descartes University have developed a new optogenetic technique that sculpts light to target individual neurons, allowing them to be stimulated with precise timing within the living brain.

In a separate study, Boyden’s lab developed a light-sensitive protein that can be embedded into neural membranes, where it emits a fluorescent signal that indicates how much voltage a particular cell is experiencing. This could allow scientists to study how neurons behave, millisecond by millisecond, as the brain performs a particular function.

The Gabrieli lab has found that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child’s brain, and that this back-and-forth conversation is actually more critical to language development than the number of words a child hears during the first three years of life.

Ann Graybiel and colleagues have devised a miniaturized system that can deliver tiny quantities of medicine to brain regions as small as 1 cubic millimeter. This type of targeted dosing could make it possible to treat diseases that affect very specific brain circuits, without interfering with the normal function of the rest of the brain.

In a separate study, the Graybiel lab found that certain neurons in the brain are responsible for marking the beginning and end of a behavior as it becomes a habit. Many researchers have argued for the existence of a centralized clock somewhere in the brain that keeps time for the entire brain.

A new study from Mehrdad Jazayeri’s lab provides evidence for an alternative timekeeping system that relies on the neurons responsible for producing a specific action.

Feng Zhang’s team, who first developed the CRISPR-based diagnostic tool called SHERLOCK, has greatly enhanced the tool’s power, and has developed a miniature paper test that allows results to be seen with the naked eye. These advancements accelerate SHERLOCK’s ability to quickly and precisely detect genetic signatures—including pathogens and tumor DNA—in samples.

Yingxi Lin has uncovered a cellular pathway that allows specific synapses to become stronger during memory formation. The findings provide the first glimpse of the molecular mechanism by which long-term memories are encoded in a region of the hippocampus called CA3.

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