London, Apr 28 : It will soon be possible for researchers to look at neurons from all sides, for a new technique has been developed which combines a fast-moving laser beam with a special microscope that look at tissues in different optical planes.
According to scientists at Baylor College of Medicine, this method will enable them to get a three dimensional view of neurons or nerve cells as they interact.
"Most microscopes can only study cell function in two dimensions. To look at different planes, you have move your preparation (of cells) or the objective lens. That takes time, and we are looking at processes that happen in milliseconds," Nature quoted Dr. Gaddum Duemani Reddy, an M.D./Ph.D. student at BCM at Houston and Rice University, as saying.
He further said that in order to get a solution to this problem, they came up with a "trick" for moving a laser beam in three dimensions quickly. And later they adapted that laser beam to the multi-photon microscope they were using.
This finally enabled them to "see" the neuron's function in three dimensions, and provided them with a much better view of its activity.
A multiphoton microscope is quite similar to a conventional, upright microscope but one of its features enables it to look at tissues in sections. However, he said that a multiphoton microscope conventional is quite slow at that
"With ours, you can do it very quickly. We are starting to see how a single neuron behaves in our laboratory," he said.
He further said that the next step would be to utilise this microscope to look a clusters or colonies of neurons, which will allow them to see the neuronal interactions clearly.
"At present, the technology is applied in my lab to study information processing of single neurons in brain slice preparations by 3D multi-site optical recording," said Dr. Peter Saggau, professor of neuroscience at BCM and the paper's senior author.
Right now, Saggau is collaborating with two other labs for using the technology in other ways. In one, researchers are hoping to use this technology for examining nerve activity in the brains of lab animals in order study how populations of neurons communicate during visual stimulation.
The other study is trying to use the technology for keeping an eye on stimulation of the acoustic nerve optically, in the hope to restore hearing in lab animals whose inner ear receptors do not work.
The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.