New research method reveals high-density information storage in the brain

Using a new method of infrared-guided laser stimulation, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich/Germany have discovered that information can be stored in the brain with very high spatial density on the surface of every single neuron (Science 1 October 1999).

The new method was developed by Hans-Ulrich Dodt from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. In the past, he had developed a method to visualize nerve cells in the depth of small pieces of rat brain. To achieve this, Dodt used a microscope and infrared light instead of normal light. In his new method, so-called "infrared-guided laser stimulation", he coupled now a highly precise UV-laser with his infrared microscope aiming with the laser beam at neurons to be investigated. The method allows the stimulation of selected target points on single neurons with a spatial precision of 10 m m.

A solution was added to the brain slices which contained neurotransmitter in a special chemical form, which becomes only active if the so called 'caged neurotransmitter' is illuminated by the UV-laser. Then, the neurotransmitter was set free from its 'cage' at the point at which the laser aims. Thus, it has become possible for scientists to do the same in the laboratory what a synapse does in the brain, but now exactly at the point and time when the scientist wants it. As this is something that neuroscientists all over the world always wanted, the method of "infrared-guided laser stimulation" will probably be very quickly taken up by many other laboratories.

A research team at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry applied the new method to investigate the so-called "long-term depression" (LTD), a very important molecular mechanism in the brain. Actually, mechanisms like long-term depression and long-term potentiation (LTP) are regarded by many researchers as the basis for memory formation in the brain. It has been controversially debated how precise the underlying modifications of the

Contact: Hans-Ulrich Dodt

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