Development and application of an optogenetic platform for controlling and imaging a large number of individual neurons
Mohammed, Ali Ibrahim Ali
The understanding and treatment of brain disorders as well as the development of intelligent machines is hampered by the lack of knowledge of how the brain fundamentally functions. Over the past century, we have learned much about how individual neurons and neural networks behave, however new tools are critically needed to interrogate how neural networks give rise to complex brain processes and disease conditions. Recent innovations in molecular techniques, such as optogenetics, have enabled neuroscientists unprecedented precision to excite, inhibit and record defined neurons. The impressive sensitivity of currently available optogenetic sensors and actuators has now enabled the possibility of analyzing a large number of individual neurons in the brains of behaving animals. To promote the use of these optogenetic tools, this thesis integrates cutting edge optogenetic molecular sensors which is ultrasensitive for imaging neuronal activity with custom wide field optical microscope to analyze a large number of individual neurons in living brains. Wide-field microscopy provides a large field of view and better spatial resolution approaching the Abbe diffraction limit of fluorescent microscope. To demonstrate the advantages of this optical platform, we imaged a deep brain structure, the Hippocampus, and tracked hundreds of neurons over time while mouse was performing a memory task to investigate how those individual neurons related to behavior. In addition, we tested our optical platform in investigating transient neural network changes upon mechanical perturbation related to blast injuries. In this experiment, all blasted mice show a consistent change in neural network. A small portion of neurons showed a sustained calcium increase for an extended period of time, whereas the majority lost their activities. Finally, using optogenetic silencer to control selective motor cortex neurons, we examined their contributions to the network pathology of basal ganglia related to Parkinson’s disease. We found that inhibition of motor cortex does not alter exaggerated beta oscillations in the striatum that are associated with parkinsonianism. Together, these results demonstrate the potential of developing integrated optogenetic system to advance our understanding of the principles underlying neural network computation, which would have broad applications from advancing artificial intelligence to disease diagnosis and treatment.