In its debut performance, a powerful new genetic engineering tool has revealed secrets of functionally distinct brain circuits for social fear and aggression in mice. This, even though these sets of neurons seem hopelessly intertwined. The tool, called CANE (Capturing Activated Neuronal Ensembles), helps trace distinct pathways embedded within the brain’s spaghetti-like wiring.
NIMH grantee Fan Wang, Ph.D. , of Duke University, and colleagues, reported on their discovery November 23, 2016 in the journal Neuron.
“CANE promises to be widely adopted, in part, because it uses readily available ‘on-the-shelf’ methods that many neuroscientists are already familiar with,” explained Michelle Freund, Ph.D., of the NIMH Office of Technology Development and Coordination, which funds the project.
CANE provides a window into the cause-and-effect relationship between specific behaviors and brain circuitry. It combines genetically-engineered mice and viruses with optogenetics – which permits specific circuits to be experimentally switched on-and-off by pulses of light. The viruses infect neurons with telltale tracers that visualize circuits when activated by specific behaviors, enabling precise timing and targeting.
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