Neuroscientists at the Donders Institute Francesco Battaglia and Nael Nadif Kasri have been awarded a DECODE grant, an initiative from neurotechnology company Inscopix. The award allows them to use an innovative mini-microscope that can image the activity of hundreds of neurons at the same time in the brains of freely moving mice.
Neural activity is measured with a technique called calcium imaging, which uses molecules that fluoresce when the cell is activated. Francesco Battaglia explains: ‘The Inscopix camera will represent a tenfold increase in cell yield with respect to what we can do now with our electrophysiological techniques.’ Another advantage of the camera, which weighs less than 2 grams, is that the same neurons can be recorded for many weeks, allowing researchers to follow the formation and maintenance of memory traces.
Left: Nael Nadif Kasri and Dr. Thomas Insel (Director NIMH) and right: Francesco Battaglia
Battaglia: ‘Research in freely moving animals expands the possibilities for connecting neural activity to behavior enormously. I think the combination of this camera and our electrophysiological technique, which has a better temporal resolution, will allow us to radically improve our understanding of brain functions. And because of the expanded yield per animal, this will also help to reduce the number of animals employed in each experiment.’
Intellectual disability syndromes
Battaglia and Nadif Kasri will use the award to study genetically-inherited intellectual disability syndromes that impair synaptic function, among other things. They will concentrate on Kleefstra syndrome, which was discovered at Radboudumc http://kleefstrasyndrome.org. Researchers at Radboud University and Radboudumc will work closely together to look at how specific cells in the brain are affected by the EHMT-1 mutation, a mutation in a gene that is a key player in Kleefstra syndrome. The link between this mutation and impaired cognitive function in mice will help to understand the mechanisms of the human disease.
The award was presented by Dr. Thomas Insel (Director, NIMH), during the Yearly Neuroscience conference in Washington D.C. (see picture) See the full press release for more information.