In a first, scientists using a new technique have been able to see in real time what happens in the brains of live animals -- opening a novel door to understand how we learn, develop and break addictions.
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The team from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and University of California at San Diego developed cell-based detectors called CNiFERs (cell-based neurotransmitter fluorescent engineered reporters) that can be implanted in a mouse brain and sense the release of specific neurotransmitters in real time.
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that transmit messages from one neuron to another.
More than 100 years ago, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell.
“The new tool is an effort to revisit Pavlov's experiment,” said lead researcher Paul A Slesinger from Icahn School of Medicine.
Slesinger and David Kleinfeld from University of California at San Diego conditioned mice by playing a tone and then, after a short delay, rewarding them with sugar.
After several days, the researchers could play the tone, and the mice would start licking in anticipation of the sugar.
"We were able to measure the timing of neurotransmitter dopamine surges during the learning process," Slesinger added.
Slesinger and colleagues will also share new results on the first biosensors that can detect a subset of neurotransmitters called neuropeptides.
Ultimately, Slesinger said they would like to use this sensing technique to directly measure these neuromodulators which affect the rate of neuron firing in real time.
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Scientists were set to present their work at the 252nd national meeting and exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Philadelphia this week.