The findings by the team led by Prof. Shy
Until now, neural cells grown on laboratory plates (two-dimensional neural cultures) have provided a convenient model for many studies in the fields of neuroscience and medicine. But because these simple two-dimensional cultures contain only a single layer of cells, they do not exhibit the complex three-dimensional network connectivity found in real brains.
Previous attempts to develop 3-D models for studying the central nervous system have met with limited success, mostly because of the high complexity of developing a 3-D culture capable of simulating real brain tissue, and the challenges associated with developing methods for observing network activity in three dimensions.
The researchers overcame these challenges by growing their advanced culture in a clear gel that supports cellular growthand allows the cells to bind and form neural networks. "By optimizing the culturing conditions we achieved cellular density and composition similar to those found in the human brain, and were able to demonstrate the formation of connections between cells and of networks that maintain neural activity," says team member Dr.
To enable the study of network activity in 3-D, the researchers genetically altered nerve cells so that it was possible to view ongoing network activity through a fluorescence microscope, earning them the nickname "Optonets."
Viewing the cell activity in 3-D was the next challenge. The researchers developed an advanced imaging system that utilizes a non-linear optical technique called "temporal focusing." This advance in microscopy significantly improves their ability to view the activities of multiple brain cells in space and time and could allow for new insights about brain activity.
Also contributing to this research were Dr. Hod Dana,
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