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Neuroscience: Watching neurons in action
Catching a neuron at work is delicate business. Neurons communicate through pulses of electricity. The traditional approach to monitoring those pulses has been to literally attach wires to the cell or tissue, or to bathe it in fluorescent dyes that respond to cellular activity. More recently, genetic tools have become available, encoding electrically responsive fluorescent proteins that allow researchers to exert finer control over which cells they monitor, and when. Using these so-called ‘genetically encoded voltage indicators’ (GEVI), researchers can zoom in on the electrical changes that occur as animals move and respond to their environments. But they’ve been difficult to use. Now researchers are finding ways to improve the proteins, opening the door to new applications in neural circuitry and behavioral biology.
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