The researchers' team of MIT have developed a device that enables them to look much deeper into the brain neurons of living animals.
Scientists have claimed that with the help of this technology they can track the neural activity and able to study the behaviors specifically linked with it. The paper was published in Nature Communications on 22 Feb 2019.
In the human body, calcium is responsible for signaling molecule to neurons. The technology that we have can only diagnose the brain into a few millimeters, however, with the help of this new device it can demonstrate how neurons interact with each other.
The team researchers have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sensor technology to measure extracellular calcium concentration. To overcome the obstacle of nanoparticles which are too big to enter the cells, researchers have used building blocks that can penetrate through the thin cell membrane.
Researchers have used contrast agent as manganese which badly interacts with the magnetic field so that it can easily penetrate the cell membrane through its organic compound. This device also contains a calcium-binding arm called a chelator.
According to the reports, it was discovered that if the calcium level was found to be low then the calcium chelator loosens the grip to the manganese atom. This protects manganese from MRI detection.
Nonetheless, the contrast agent appears the brighter in MRI image if the calcium freely flows into the cell then the chelator tied with the calcium and manganese.
Alan Jasanoff, an MIT professor and an associate member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, said, “There are amazing things being done with these tools, but we wanted something that would allow ourselves and others to look deeper at cellular-level signaling”
Additionally, he said, “When neurons, or other brain cells called glia, become stimulated, they often experience more than tenfold increases in calcium concentration. Our sensor can detect those changes”.
The experiment was done on rats by injecting potassium ions to stimulate electrical activity in neurons of the striatum. This area is responsible for learning new behavior and planning movements. The researchers are able to track down the calcium response in those cells.
According to the researchers with the use of this technique, it will be easier to locate the smaller clusters of neurons that are specifically involved in the actions and behaviors of the individuals.
Earlier MRI was used to measure the blood flow in the brain, however, this new technique can provide every scrutinizing details about the timing and the location of neuron activity. With more research work, scientists will be able to diagnose imaging of all the organs that rely on calcium such as the heart.