Developers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have received a $7.75 million grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct further research on technology that stimulates and map circuits in the brain.
Over the last decade, three tools have emerged that can together enable the mapping of circuits within the brain. The most recent, developed at the university, is an implant that uses light to stimulate specific neurons in genetically modified mice or rats and then records the response from other neurons with electrodes.
Unlike earlier methods to stimulate the brain with light, which rely on relatively large light-emitters, the new probes can target fewer neurons using microscopic LEDs that are about the same size as the brain cells themselves. This control makes individual circuits easier to pick out.
“We want to put our technology into the hands of people who can really use it,” says Euisik Yoon, leader of the project and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the university.
By observing how mice and rats behave when certain neural circuits are stimulated, neuroscientists can better understand the function of those circuits in the brain. Then, after the rodents are euthanized, they can observe the neurons that had been activated and how they are connected. This connects the behavior they had observed while the rodent performing a controlled experiment with a detailed map of the relevant brain structure.
The experiment could lead to an enhanced understanding of neurological diseases, as well as more effective treatments. In the nearer term, the details of neural circuitry could also help advance computing technologies that try to mimic the efficiency of the brain.
“They are just one of the neuron types we are seeking to map,” adds John Seymour, one of the co-investigators and U-M assistant research scientist in electrical engineering and computer science. “If you can record from motor cortex pyramidal neurons, you can predict arm movement.”
The project is called Multimodal Integrated Neural Technologies (MINT) and has been awarded as a five-year National Science Foundation NeuroNEx Technology Hub.