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Brain cells glow in dark with bioluminescent sensor

Three hippocampal neurons glowing with bioluminescent light produced by a new genetically engineered sensor

Three hippocampal neurons glow with bioluminescent light produced by a new, genetically engineered sensor. A team of Vanderbilt University scientists genetically modified luciferase, the enzyme that produces bioluminescence, so that it acts as an optical sensor that records activity in brain cells.

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A team of researchers at Vanderbilt University created a new kind of bioluminescent sensor that causes individual brain cells to glow like fireflies in the dark. They created a genetically modified form of luciferase, the enzyme that a number of other species (including fireflies) use to produce light, as a new and improved method for tracking the interactions within large neural networks in the brain.

The research was funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (grant DBI 14-50897).

To learn more about this research, see the Vanderbilt news story Bioluminescent sensor causes brain cells to glow in the dark. (Date image taken: 2016; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: March 1, 2017)

Credit: Carl Johnson, Vanderbilt University

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