Light-controlled neo-neurons in the brain

Dec 15, 2010
Neo-neuron marked by the fluorescent protein YFP. Credit: Institut Pasteur

French researchers at the Institut Pasteur in association with the CNRS have just shown, in an experimental model, that newly formed neurons in the adult brain can be stimulated by light. A novel technique associating optical and genetic tools allows neurobiologists to render neo-neurons photo-excitable.

For the first time they have prompted, observed, and specifically recorded the activity of these new nerve cells in the . Using this technique the scientists have revealed the nature of signals emitted from new across in the . This work represents an essential step towards better understanding the role of new nerve cells and in developing therapeutic applications, most notably in the realm of neurodegenerative diseases.

Pierre-Marie Lledo and his team in the Perception and Memory unit at the Institut Pasteur have just shown, for the first time in an animal model, the possibility of using light to stimulate and specifically study new neurons which form in the adult brain. Until now the existing methods of stimulation did not permit this. Electrical stimulation affects all cells without discrimination and chemical stimulation concerns only neurons mature enough to have surface receptors for active molecules.

By introducing and inducing expression of photo-sensitive proteins in new neurons, the scientists have been able to control their activity with the use of luminescent flashes. Using this technique, researchers at the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS have been able to observe, stimulate, and specifically record the activity of new nerve cells. They have brought proof that new neurons formed in the of the adult brain are integrated into preexisting nervous circuits. They have also shown that, against all expectations, the number of contacts between young cells and their target cells greatly increased over several months.

This work constitutes an essential step in characterizing the functions fulfilled by new neurons. It opens new avenues to investigation for understanding the connectivity between “newly formed” neurons and their host circuits. This is a crucial step on the way to foreseeing the use of stem cells within the framework of new therapeutic protocols for repairing brain damage, notably in the realm of .

Explore further: Proteases help nerve cells to navigate

More information: How, when and where new inhibitory neurons release neurotransmitters in the adult olfactory bulb, Journal of Neuroscience, December 15, 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New brain cells listen before they talk

Oct 30, 2007

Newly created neurons in adults rely on signals from distant brain regions to regulate their maturation and survival before they can communicate with existing neighboring cells—a finding that has important implications ...

Stem cells rescue nerve cells by direct contact

Feb 01, 2010

Scientists at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have shown how transplanted stem cells can connect with and rescue threatened neurons and brain tissue. The results point the way to new possible treatments ...

New adult brain cells may be central to lifelong learning

May 23, 2007

The steady formation of new brain cells in adults may represent more than merely a patching up of aging brains, a new study has shown. The new adult brain cells may serve to give the adult brain the same kind of learning ...

Scientists produce neurons from human skin

Feb 22, 2007

Scientists from Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine have succeeded in producing neurons in vitro using stem cells extracted from adult human skin. This is the first time such an advanced state of nerve cell differentiation ...

Recommended for you

Proteases help nerve cells to navigate

48 minutes ago

Our ability to move relies on the correct formation of connections between different nerve cells and between nerve and muscle cells. Growing axons of nerve cells are guided to their targets by signposts expressed ...

New test to help brain injury victims recover

Oct 21, 2014

A dynamic new assessment for helping victims of trauma to the brain, including those suffering from progressive conditions such as dementia, has been developed by a clinical neuropsychologist at the University ...

See-through sensors open new window into the brain

Oct 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Developing invisible implantable medical sensor arrays, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has overcome a major technological hurdle in researchers' efforts to understand ...

User comments : 0