New exploratory imaging device allows approximately 1,000 times more access to brain tissue

Key Research Finding: Science is examining neural activity in the brain for applications ranging from innovative therapies for brain-related injuries and diseases to computer learning architectures for artificial intelligence and deep neural networks.

A research team has developed a tool that allows researchers to see more of the brain of a living mouse, to make discoveries that can advance research into the mechanisms of neural circuits that form the underlying behavior of the human brain. The tool overcomes the drawback of traditional brain probes – the small amount of tissue they can access, which limits their ability to image neurons of interest.

The innovation involves inserting an imaging probe with lateral viewing capabilities into a previously inserted optically adapted channel – an ultrafine-walled glass capillary – to convert deep brain imaging to endoscopic imaging. The operator can freely rotate the probe to image different regions of the brain, obtaining a 360-degree view for imaging along the length of the inserted probe. This high volume imaging allows an approximately 1000-fold increase in tissue access volume, over what is available for imaging at the cutting edge of typical miniature imaging probes.

The system, called COMPACT – Clear Optically Matched Panoramic Access Channel Technique – advances the use of high-resolution optical imaging in a living brain to study the function and adaptability of the neural circuits that underlie behavior. The long-term goal is to transform the study and understanding of deep brain functions in mammals through close collaboration with neuroscientists.

Professor Purdue, Title: Meng Cui, Assistant Professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering and Department of Biological Sciences, College of Sciences. Expertise in communications, networking, signal and image processing, and optics – applied to the use of imaging technology to study the brain of mammals, to understand the neural circuits underlying behavior and to do advance the development of brain-machine interfaces.

Journal name: Nature Methods.

Funding: National Institutes of Health. 1U01NS118302, 1U01NS094341 and 1UF1NS107689.

OTC / Patent Information, if applicable: In March 2020, the Technology Commercialization Office of the Purdue Research Foundation filed a utility patent for the COMPACT-based deep brain neurophotonic interface (inventor: Meng Cui; US Application No: 16 / 833,550), which covered the conception, design and implementation of COMPACT.

Brief Summary of Methods: Researchers developed a motorized capillary insertion procedure and a computer-controlled actuator to insert an ultra-thin-walled glass capillary and probe device. They inserted a GRIN (GRadient INdex) imaging lens probe to focus inside brain tissue and transmit an optical signal. The innovation in the methodology is to reverse the convention of inserting the lens directly into the brain – rather, the researchers first put in a clear, optically matched channel, then insert an imaging probe into that channel. This isolated the imaging probe from the tissue for free rotation and a full panoramic view of the neurons around the channel.

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