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Picture of the Day

Scientists expand toolbox to study the brain

Thermogenetics is a powerful new tool for studying the brain. The technique allows scientists to use temperature to control the electrical firing of a genetically modified neuron using special temperature-sensing proteins. By being able to turn on a set of neurons at will, the technique gives scientists a precise tool to examine how they contribute to a particular behavior. Now, a team of faculty and students from the University of Missouri report the biophysical characterization of a recently discovered temperature-sensing protein and demonstrate its ability to control behavior in fruit flies. As the first such protein to be discovered from a family of genes encoding gustatory receptors, the protein represents a novel thermogenetic tool. Thermogenetics builds on ongoing advances in the field of optogenetics, which uses light-sensitive proteins to control neural activity. Aside from the source by which they control neural firing (temperature versus light), the complementary approaches differ in the neural response: light induces a fast response in neurons, while the neural response from temperature is more gradual. When paired together, these temporal differences could be a powerful approach to unraveling the intricacies of the brain.

Visit Website | Image credit: Benton Berigan/University of Missouri