May 20, 2024

MIT’s New MRI Probe Can Reveal More of the Brain’s Inner Workings

Utilizing a novel probe (in light blue) for practical magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MIT biological engineers have actually created a method to keep an eye on specific populations of neurons and expose how they interact with each other. Credit: Courtesy of the scientists
Tracing connections in between nerve cell populations could help researchers map brain circuits that underlie behavior and understanding.
Using a novel probe for practical magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MIT biological engineers have designed a method to monitor private populations of neurons and expose how they interact with each other.
Comparable to how the gears of a clock connect in specific methods to turn the clocks hands, different parts of the brain connect to carry out a range of jobs, such as creating habits or analyzing the world around us. The new MRI probe could potentially enable scientists to map those networks of interactions.

” With routine fMRI, we see the action of all the gears at once. But with our brand-new method, we can get individual gears that are specified by their relationship to the other gears, and thats vital for building up a photo of the system of the brain,” states Alan Jasanoff, an MIT professor of biological engineering, brain and cognitive sciences, and nuclear science and engineering.
Utilizing this method, which includes genetically targeting the MRI probe to specific populations of cells in animal designs, the scientists had the ability to identify neural populations associated with a circuit that reacts to fulfilling stimuli. The new MRI probe might likewise enable research studies of lots of other brain circuits, the scientists state.
Jasanoff is the senior author of the research study, which was released on March 3, 2022, in Nature Neuroscience. The lead authors of the paper are current MIT PhD recipient Souparno Ghosh and previous MIT research study scientist Nan Li.
Tracing connections
Traditional fMRI imaging determines changes to blood circulation in the brain, as a proxy for neural activity. When neurons receive signals from other nerve cells, it sets off an increase of calcium, which triggers a diffusible gas called nitric oxide to be launched. Nitric oxide acts in part as a vasodilator that increases blood flow to the area.
Imaging calcium directly can use a more exact image of brain activity, but that kind of imaging normally needs intrusive treatments and fluorescent chemicals. The MIT team wanted to develop a technique that could work throughout the brain without that type of invasiveness.
” If we wish to find out how brain-wide networks of cells and brain-wide mechanisms function, we need something that can be spotted deep in tissue and preferably throughout the entire brain simultaneously,” Jasanoff says. “The way that we chose to do that in this study was to essentially hijack the molecular basis of fMRI itself.”
The scientists produced a genetic probe, provided by viruses, that codes for a protein that sends out a signal whenever the neuron is active. This protein, which the scientists called NOSTIC (nitric oxide synthase for targeting image contrast), is an engineered kind of an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase. The NOSTIC protein can identify raised calcium levels that arise throughout neural activity; it then generates nitric oxide, resulting in an artificial fMRI signal that arises only from cells that include NOSTIC.
The probe is provided by a virus that is injected into a specific site, after which it travels along axons of neurons that link to that website. That way, the researchers can label every neural population that feeds into a specific location.
” When we use this virus to provide our probe in this way, it triggers the probe to be expressed in the cells that supply input to the place where we put the virus,” Jasanoff states. “Then, by carrying out functional imaging of those cells, we can start to measure what makes input to that region take location, or what kinds of input arrive at that area.”
Turning the equipments
In the new study, the scientists used their probe to identify populations of nerve cells that forecast to the striatum, a region that is associated with preparing motion and reacting to reward. In rats, they were able to figure out which neural populations send input to the striatum during or instantly following a fulfilling stimulus– in this case, deep brain stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus, a brain center that is involved in hunger and motivation, to name a few functions.
One question that scientists have actually had about deep brain stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus is how wide-ranging the impacts are. In this research study, the MIT group revealed that several neural populations, located in areas including the motor cortex and the entorhinal cortex, which is involved in memory, send out input into the striatum following deep brain stimulation.
” Its not simply input from the website of the deep brain stimulation or from the cells that carry dopamine. There are these other components, both distally and in your area, that shape the response, and we can put our finger on them due to the fact that of using this probe,” Jasanoff states.
During these experiments, neurons also generate regular fMRI signals, so in order to identify the signals that are coming specifically from the genetically altered neurons, the researchers perform each experiment twice: when with the probe on, and as soon as following treatment with a drug that inhibits the probe. By determining the difference in fMRI activity in between these two conditions, they can identify how much activity is present in probe-containing cells specifically.
The scientists now hope to use this technique, which they call hemogenetics, to study other networks in the brain, beginning with an effort to recognize a few of the areas that get input from the striatum following deep brain stimulation.
” One of the important things thats interesting about the method that were introducing is that you can picture applying the same tool at many websites in the brain and piecing together a network of interlocking equipments, which include these input and output relationships,” Jasanoff says. “This can cause a broad viewpoint on how the brain works as an incorporated whole, at the level of neural populations.”
Recommendation: “Functional dissection of neural circuitry utilizing a genetic press reporter for fMRI” by Souparno Ghosh, Nan Li, Miriam Schwalm, Benjamin B. Bartelle, Tianshu Xie, Jade I. Daher, Urvashi D. Singh, Katherine Xie, Nicholas DiNapoli, Nicholas B. Evans, Kwanghun Chung and Alan Jasanoff, 3 March 2022, Nature Neuroscience.DOI: 10.1038/ s41593-022-01014-8.
The research study was moneyed by the National Institutes of Health and the MIT Simons Center for the Social Brain.

Standard fMRI imaging measures changes to blood flow in the brain, as a proxy for neural activity. When neurons get signals from other nerve cells, it sets off an increase of calcium, which causes a diffusible gas called nitric oxide to be released. The researchers developed a genetic probe, provided by viruses, that codes for a protein that sends out a signal whenever the neuron is active. This protein, which the researchers called NOSTIC (nitric oxide synthase for targeting image contrast), is an engineered form of an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase. The NOSTIC protein can identify raised calcium levels that arise throughout neural activity; it then produces nitric oxide, leading to a synthetic fMRI signal that develops just from cells that contain NOSTIC.