Rodents with GoPros. What tiny microscopes can tell us about changes in brain circuitry. The last of our coverage from Neuroscience 2018.

The human brain contains 100 billion neurons—with 100 trillion connections—surrounded by structural support cells closely packed together. Understanding how these networks of neurons process information would enable neuroscientists to better study and model the twisted circuitry of neurological disorders.

How to do this has become one of the defining issues of the 21st century. After all, if you could understand what makes healthy neurons start misfiring, you might be able to figure out what causes conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and prevent them from occurring.

Miniature microscopes are one way scientists are attempting to study the brain circuit activity underlying complex neurodegenerative diseases like these. The technology, developed by Inscopix, a discovery-phase neurotechnology company based in Silicon Valley, is being used to peer deep into the brain or freely-moving rodents while they are interacting in their environment.

Traditional neurotechnologies limit researchers to mapping brain activity either in fine detail but in very few neurons at a time (microscale), or in large regions (macroscale) but without the detail of their individual neurons.

The Inscopix technology is more versatile. It maps the brain or rodents in real time at the speed of thought. A bulky bench-top fluorescence microscope about the size of thumbnail is mounted onto the skull of a living animal—imagine a mouse with GoPro on its head—and maps activity in brain circuits and networks. The miniaturized tool records millisecond-by-millisecond movies of the activity of large neural networks over days or several months.

Charles River’s South San Francisco site, which conducts microdialysis, in vivo efficacy and pharmacokinetics testing, is partnering with Inscopix on drug discovery and translational medicine projects involving neurological diseases at the level of neural circuits.

Jacqueline Vazquez-DeRose, PhD, a neuroscientist at Inscopix and Holden Janssens, PhD, an Associate Director at Charles River’s South San Francisco site met up at the Society for Neuroscience meeting to talk about neural circuit mapping technology, microadialysis and the potential for improving therapeutic efficacy of new drugs. You can watch the conversation above, which was moderated by Anjli Venkateswaran, PhD, part of Global Discovery Services at Charles River.