July 16, 2004

Tool Measures Neuron Response in Mice

Read more... Schizophrenia Biology

Dr. Alison Barth and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a measuring system that can pinpoint individual neuron responses in the brain. The researchers hope that such sensitive measuring devices will assist in the development of better, more targeted treatment for brain diseases such as schizophrenia.

"If you look at a condition like anxiety, for example, when you make a person anxious there are particular neurons that respond to that feeling but it's not necessarily that all of the cells are responding in the same way," said Barth. "What this tool does is it allows you to find the cells that are most altered by the state and then you can define the properties of these neurons and design drugs to target those specific cells."

To date, scientists have measured the responses of large areas of the brain, but have not yet viewed individual neuron responses to outside stimuli. Barth and colleagues genetically altered a live mouse so that a certain protein marker would "light up" when a particular neuron was active. Using this tool, they could concievably determine which neurons were affected by a certain drug, by observing the areas of glowing protein activity. The specificity of measurement allowed Barth to determine which specific neurons were involved in the sensory processing of a single whisker twitch.

Other scientists are cautiously optimistic about the promise of the new technique for humans. Professor Tony Harmar of the Molecular Pharmacology Dept. at the University of Edinburgh, acknowledged the benefits of such sensitive measurements on the response of individual neurons. He is, however, unsure of the potential benefits for human subjects, with affected neurons buried deep inside the brain tissue.

"This shows you which cells are doing something while they are alive and that potentially means you can work on the properties of those cells while they are living and that's definitely important....[But] the cells they looked at were right on the surface so you can easily see them without burrowing inside the brain."

For the full news story, see BBC news (http://news.bbc.co.uk).
Article: "Tool to help find new brain drugs" (July 14, 2004).


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