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New mapping approach lets scientists zoom in and out as the brain processes sound

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have mapped the sound-processing part of the mouse brain in a way that keeps both the proverbial forest and the trees in view. Their imaging technique allows zooming in and out on views of brain activity within mice, and it enabled the team to watch brain cells light up as mice "called" to each other. The results, which represent a step toward better understanding how our own brains process language, appear online July 31 the journal Neuron.

In the past, researchers often studied sound processing in various animal brains by poking tiny electrodes into the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound. They then played tones and observed the response of nearby neurons, laboriously repeating the process over a gridlike pattern to figure out where the active neurons were. The neurons seemed to be laid out in neatly organized bands, each responding to a different tone. More recently, a technique called two-photon microscopy has allowed researchers to focus in on minute slices of the live mouse brain, observing activity in unprecedented detail. This newer approach has suggested that the well-manicured arrangement of bands might be an illusion. But, says David Yue, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, "You could lose your way within the zoomed-in views afforded by two-photon microscopy and not know exactly where you are in the brain." Yue led the study along with Eric Young, Ph.D., also a professor of biomedical engineering and a researcher in Johns Hopkins' Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences.

To get the bigger picture, John Issa, a graduate student in Yue's lab, used a mouse genetically engineered to produce a molecule that glows green in the presence of calcium. Since calcium levels rise in neurons when they become active, neurons in the mouse's auditory cortex glow green when activated by various sounds. Is

Contact: Shawna Williams
Johns Hopkins Medicine

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