A team of researchers have devised a novel technology that can detect the activity of neurons during specific and complex behaviours like "sex in mind" at cellular resolution.
Scientists from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), with collaborators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Boston University and the Allen Institute of Brain Science, were able to spot the activity of neurons at the resolution of individual brain cells throughout the entire mouse brain.
Importantly, for the first time, the new imaging method makes it possible to accurately count how many neurons are active in various brain areas during specific behaviour.
Most people have seen functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the human brain. Such scans, while roughly indicative of brain activity, have very low resolution.
The new technology "opens the door to do automated screening of brain activation evoked by specific behaviours in mice," said lead researcher Pavel Osten, associate professor at the CSHL.
The method uses the presence of a protein called c-fos to indicate where individual neurons are active.
The protein is generated by expression of a gene by the same name, which is known to correlate with neural activity.
c-fos protein has been used previously as a marker for neural activity.
According to the authors, the new imaging technology could be useful in figuring out what goes wrong at the cellular level in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, where social interaction is impaired.
The study appeared in the journal Cell Reports.