Researchers have been able to see changes deep within the brains of living animals at the cellular level. The advance could provide an important tool for understanding diseases and disorders of the brain, including substance abuse and addiction.
Researchers can't currently study tissues in deep brain structures of a living animal with conventional light methods because light can't penetrate them. To overcome this, a team of scientists at Stanford University led by Dr. Mark Schnitzer set out to develop a way to use microlenses that can be directly inserted into brain regions of interest. Their work was supported by NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
The reseachers described their technique, called time-lapse fluorescence microendoscopy, in the early online edition of Nature Medicine in January 19, 2011. They surgically implanted permanent guide tubes with their tips just above the areas they wanted to look at. They focused on 2 brain regions, the hippocampus and striatum.