Dan O’Connor, a researcher who joined the BSi’s Cognitive and Synaptic Plasticity Division this past year as its first hire, uses an imaging technique that allows him to visualize the cellular-level activities in a mouse’s brain while the living animal acts out a range of behaviors.
“We can view patterns of neuron excitation that underlie perception,” he says, describing a method in which a small window can be introduced into a mouse’s skull to allow remarkably vivid microscopy - - using a two-photon imaging approach -- scientists are increasingly learning to tap. “We’re looking for the biological bases of cognition,” says O’Connor.
O’Connor’s research program has also vaulted the BSi to the cutting edge of the emerging field of “optogenetics”, allowing neuroscientists to manipulate the behaviors of functionally distinct neuron clusters using genetically encoded proteins. Work with these technologies promises to place the BSi in the lead for understanding how neuronal circuits produce both perceptions and behaviors.
With the BSi’s wealth of scientific collaboration, O’Connor expects the new imaging approach to aid in the development of drug discovery that might tackle poorly known pathologies that result from cases of traumatic brain injury.