There are billions of neurons in the human brain and scientists want to know how they are connected. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Alle Davis and Maxine Harrison Professor of Neuroscience Anthony Zador, and their colleagues Xiaoyin Chen and Yu-Chi Sun, published a new technique in Neuroscience of nature to determine connections using genetic tags. Their technique, called BARseq2, marks brain cells with short sequences of RNA called “bar codes,” allowing researchers to trace thousands of brain circuits simultaneously.
Many brain mapping tools allow neuroscientists to examine a handful of individual neurons at a time, for example by injecting them with a dye. Chen, a postdoc in Zador’s lab, explains how their tool, BARseq, is different:
“The idea here is that instead of labeling each neuron with a fluorescent dye, we fill it with a unique RNA sequence, and we call that an RNA barcode. You can sequence the barcode to read where this neuron sends its projection. You can label it as tens of thousands of neurons, all at the same time, and you can always distinguish which axon comes from which neuron. “
The latest generation of this tool, called BARseq2, adds a step to analyze a few dozen natural neural genes using sequencing chemistry similar to that used to illuminate artificial RNA barcodes. Chen says:
“These differences in gene expression generally reflect what these neurons do. For example, if a neuron expresses certain receptors, you will be able to respond to whatever those receptors are receiving. So compared to anyone who doesn’t have it. these receptors, they will respond differently to certain signals. “
BARseq2 brings together the structure and function of the brain. Sun, a former research technician in Zador’s lab and now a graduate student at New York University, likens the brain to a car. To really understand how a car works, “you look at everything from the physical and electrical properties to how each part connects. Likewise, to understand how the brain works, you need to look at all of the different aspects of each neuron. , including the location of each neuron in the brain, gene expression, and connection to other neurons. “
This project is part of a multi-institutional effort, the NIH-funded BRAIN Initiative Cell Enumeration Network, to compile an atlas of every cell in the brains of human, mouse and non-human primates. This work will allow scientists to understand how we produce complex behaviors and give researchers new tools to treat diseases of the brain.
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Material provided by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Original written by Luis Sandoval. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.