Neuroscientists have developed a new method to directly study the nervous system of mice. So directly, in fact, that researchers can physically see the nerve paths, while keeping the organs intact.
This revolutionary process, called uDisco, was developed by researchers at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich in Germamy. The technique and initial findings were published in Nature Methods, a medical journal. Dr. Ali Ertürk, one of uDisco’s developers, was astonished at the success of the process.
“When I saw images on the microscope that my students were obtaining,” Dr. Ertürk remarked, “I was like ‘Wow, this is mind blowing!’ We can map the neural connectivity in the whole mouse in 3D.”
The process highlights the specimen’s nervous system with a fluorescent protein, allowing observation of neurological impulses without dissecting the creature. This is an important breakthrough for neuroscience, as it could lead to further study of human mental conditions, without damaging the integrity of the brain.
“[Dissection] is not a good way to study neurons because if you slice the brain, you slice the network,” Dr. Ertürk said. “The best way to look at it is to look at the entire organism, not only [a cross-section of the brain] but beyond that. We need to see the whole picture.”
So far, uDisco has only been performed on mice and rats, all of which were dead – the process is hard on the body and would kill living specimens. Though uDisco will, in all likelihood, be used on human specimens, the process is too new to be tested on cadavers. Still, it’s a fascinating step forward in studying malformations of, and injuries to, the human brain and nervous system.
(Image: Ali Erturk via NYTimes.com)