Observing the freely behaving brain in action

Artwork: Julia Kuhl

A team of scientists led by Jason Kerr, Director at the center of advanced european studies and research (caesar) in Bonn, Germany, has developed a novel head-mounted miniature microscope in collaboration with the Russell Division and TDSU 3 at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light: It is capable of imaging all cortical layers of a freely moving rat. Light is delivered through a custom designed and manufactured glass fibre, utilizing the ‘three-photon effect’ to image neuronal activity located in deep cortical layers. The fibre was developed especially for this task by MPL scientists. Compared to two-photon or one-photon fluorescence microscopy, three-photon is ideal for imaging deeper in scattering tissue, and enables clearer images of single cells deep in the tissue. The new microscope allows for continuous imaging of neuron populations, even when the animal runs or performs complex behavioral tasks, over extended periods of time.

The researchers expect the so-called fiberscope to be widely applicable to behavioral research, as previous microscopes were limited in their imaging depth and unsuitable for use over extended periods of time, restricting the types of behaviors that could be observed. With this new approach, researchers are now able to understand the complex network dynamics that underlie neural computation which, in turn, forms the basis of perception and behavior.

The study describing the new fiberscope is now published in the renowned journal Nature Methods: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41592-020-0817-9. Read more about it in the caesar press release. In addition, the caesar team has produced a short video to present the research results.

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