Brain researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have received a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop next-generation versions of their “miniscope.” The miniature microscope can be mounted on the heads of lab animals to provide an invaluable view of the brain’s inner workings.
The four-year award will support the design, manufacturing, and distribution of two types of new two-photon miniscopes that will allow scientists to peer much deeper into the brain than before.
The miniscope is about an inch tall and weighs less than 4 grams. It snaps into a baseplate implanted on top of an animal’s head, capturing neuronal activity. The data is then sent by a thin wire to a computer for analysis, allowing for better observation of brain activity.
The UCLA researchers’ miniscope has been developed for 10 years in the UCLA laboratory and has so far been used in over 500 research facilities around the world. Miniscope is used to study neuronal activity in healthy animals – previously, it was only possible with much larger, heavier microscopes that had to be fixed in place, but the new miniscope enables researchers to study brain function in animals free to explore their environment. It is also helping to unlock new insights into social behavior, memory, and neurological conditions.
The two new miniscopes funded by the NIH grant will produce much higher-resolution images than previous versions and allow scientists to see the fine structure of connections in the brain, not just cell bodies. One miniature microscope will be light enough to be worn by a mouse and have a larger field of view than any similar microscope. The second device can be worn by a rat and image thousands of brain cells at the same time.
“These are very important tools that can be transformative for any neuroscience question that requires looking at the activity of large populations of brain cells in freely behaving animals,” said Dr. Peyman Golshani, a professor of neurology at UCLA and the grant’s principal investigator.
The award was a part of the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative, an effort to support the study of the human brain and potentially spur the development of better methods for diagnosing and treating neurological diseases.