In DepthNeuroscience

A faster, brighter picture of brain cells in action

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Science  20 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6263, pp. 895
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6263.895

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At the heart of all brain activity—thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and memories—are rapid surges of electrical activity, called action potentials, that zip through neurons and transmit information throughout the brain. Capturing this play of activity across large numbers of neurons is essential to understanding cognition, but existing techniques for monitoring neurons are too slow, or their scope too limited, for scientists to really see the brain at work. This week online in Science, a research team at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, reports a new technique that renders spikes of electrical activity visible under a microscope as flashes of light with a temporal resolution of about 0.2 milliseconds. At that speed, researchers will be able to observe aspects of neural code that they've never had experimental access to before, they say.