A newly developed microscope allows scientists to watch pulses of electricity travel along the wires and circuits inside our brains. This looks set to help them to better understand how brain cells communicate and how this can go wrong in conditions such epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Until now, studies have mostly been limited to examining electrical activity in single cells. But the new microscope, called Firefly, has a field of view more than 100 times larger than previous techniques. It allows researchers to watch pulses of electricity travel from cell to cell through large circuits containing hundreds of cells. The electrical pulses last only one thousandth of a second, but Firefly produces high quality images at a speed fast enough to capture this detail. To do so, it harnesses a new light-sensitive technology called optogenetics. In this image, each bright spot represents a single nerve cell in a mouse’s brain.
Written by Deborah Oakley
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