Five UCLA scientists have received a grant from the NIH for a study that could provide a better understanding of how neural circuits in the brain process, encode, store, and retrieve information. The three-year, $2.3 million grant will support the team’s work to develop methods for recording the activity of intact neural networks in living animals. The funding is through the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative (http://braininitiative.nih.gov/), which was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2013. With more than 500 neuroscientists throughout its campus, UCLA is well-positioned to play a significant role in this effort. The grant award was described in a November 4, 2015 press release from UCLA (see link below). The investigators, led by Peyman Golshani, M.D., a UCLA Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, aim to build a new generation of miniature fluorescent microscopes to image and manipulate the activity of large numbers of brain cells in mice. The mice will be studied while moving freely in their natural environments. The tiny head-mounted microscopes, which are expected to weigh less than three grams, will monitor brain cell activity in real time, in ways that were not possible before. The microscopes will visualize individual neurons expressing calcium-triggered fluorophores, which light up when specific wavelengths of light from the microscope are shone on them. The method will illuminate cells that are flooded with calcium, which happens when neurons fire. “When we image calcium levels, what we are really finding out is how large numbers of cells fire during specific behaviors,” Dr. Golshani said.
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