The researchers, led by Stefan Hell, have taken a decisive step towards unraveling the finest structures of the brain to reveal how it works.
Using the Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) microscopy technique developed by Hell, the scientists have made visible the tiny structures used by neurons to communicate, with unprecedented resolution of less than 70 nanometers. This application of STED microscopy to decipher basic processes in the brain opens new paths to neurobiology studies, such as dementia and clinical applications.
Neurons have been captured sending and receiving signals in high resolution for the first time, essentially showing the brain in action.
To make the tiniest anatomical details of neurons visible, the researchers used optogenetics to give mice an extra gene that generates a yellow glow. When their brains were viewed with a special microscope through a glass-sealed window in the skull, the synapses in neurons lit up.