Neural Activity Recorded In Nematode Brain Sheds Light On Animal Behavior

Dec 31, 2015 06:33 PM EST

Princeton University researchers have documented the first 3D recordings of brain activity in a free-moving animal. Their findings ultimately shed light on how neurons coordinate action and perception in animals.

In the latest study, researchers focused on a species of nematode, scientifically known as Caenorhabditis elegans. This worm is roughly one millimeter long with a nervous system containing only 302 neurons. Using a novel technique, researchers were able to correlate the activity of 77 neurons with specific behaviors such as backwards and forwards motion, according to the University's news release

"This system is exciting because it provides the most detailed picture yet of brain-wide neural activity with single-neuron resolution in the brain of an animal that is free to move around," Andrew Leifer, co-author of the recent study, explained in the release. "Neuroscience is at the beginning of a transition towards larger-scale recordings of neural activity and towards studying animals under more natural conditions. This work helps push the field forward on both fronts."

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The simple nervous system of C. elegans allowed researchers to easily study how how neurons work, which will help our understanding of more complex organisms. For example, researchers were surprised by the number of neurons involved in the simple act of turning around.

"It would be immensely more difficult to perform whole-brain recordings in humans. The technology needed to perform similar recordings in humans is many years away," Leifer added. "By studying how the brain works in a simple animal like the worm, however, we hope to gain insights into how collections of neurons work that are universal for all brains, even humans."

Their findings were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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