Scientists Read Mind of Mice With Fluorescent Protein

First Posted: Feb 20, 2013 02:09 AM EST

Researchers at Stanford University announced that they managed to read the minds of mice.

To do that the scientists laced the rodents’ brains with fluorescent proteins and looked at which parts glowed as they ran around a cage.

The green fluorescent protein is produced through gene therapy techniques and they light up in the mouse's brain when certain neurons are activated. In addition to that, a minuscule microscope was installed just above the rodents’ hippocampus, a brain region thought to play a key role in spatial memory and navigation.

"We can literally figure out where the mouse is in the arena by looking at these lights," said Stanford researcher Mark Schnitzer in a statement. "The hippocampus is very sensitive to where the animal is in its environment, and different cells respond to different parts of the arena. Imagine walking around your office. Some of the neurons in your hippocampus light up when you're near your desk, and others fire when you're near your chair. This is how your brain makes a representative map of a space."

The microscope relayed information from about 700 neurons to a computer screen, where the scientists could watch the digital fireworks show and look for patterns in the bursts of activity as a mouse ran around its enclosure.

In the article published on the online edition of Nature Neuroscience, the scientists said specific neurons fired when the mouse was scratching at a wall in one section of the arena, but then faded when it scurried to a different part and another brain cell lit up. What's more, the same patterns in brain activity were observed in experiments that took place a month apart, the researchers said.

The team believes their research could be a starting point to test new therapies for human neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, which might make certain neurons stop functioning.

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