Scientists Create Genetic 'GPS' System to Locate and Track Nerve Cells

Brain neurons that release GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) can now be located and tracked, thanks to a so-called GPS system created by neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL).

GABA neurons are a vital class of brain cells, working to inhibit the intensity of nerve signals caused by the more common excitatory neurons. Without GABA's influence, the the brain would be unable to function normally--in fact, it would be in a constant state of seizure if the excitatory neurons were allowed to operate without modulation. These GABA neurons occur within a tangle of millions of neuronal axons and dendrites, making them difficult to identify on a global scale.

Over the last five years, CSHL Professor Z. Josh Huang and colleagues in his neuroscience lab have worked on a project to label GABA neurons. Their research paper, which appeared September 22 in the journal Neuron, describes how they created different lines of mice who have genetic triggers than allow GABA neurons to be specifically identified, tracked, and manipulated.

This research has created a toolkit of sorts, which can be used by other scientists to conduct a variety of experiments, including studying the way that inhibition functions in a living brain. This could be of tremendous use to scientists studying disorders like schizophrenia. Huang has already been able to use this new knowledge to learn more about how brain circuits assemble, which is an important step in understanding how neuropsychiatric disorders develop.

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