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Patterns of activity are the basis of computation in the brain. We are building new microscopes to record large patterns of synaptic activity at high speed, to observe how neurons in the mouse cortex transform inputs into outputs during relevant behaviors.
Neurons can have thousands of synapses distributed in three dimensions along their dendrites. The computations that neurons perform are determined by patterns of synaptic activity in space and time. Much like currents in transistors, synaptic inputs can interact, allowing neuronal dendrites to perform nonlinear integration. It is unknown, however, to what extent neurons use interactions in synaptic activity to perform behaviorally-relevant computations. To explain how the brain processes information, tools are needed to directly read out intricate three-dimensional patterns of synaptic activity in the awake brain.
Our lab is developing microscopes to track the synaptic activity patterns of single cortical neurons in great detail. Existing tools for monitoring synaptic activity are limited by tradeoffs between recording volume, speed, and sensitivity to brain movement. At Janelia, we aim to dramatically increase the speed of two-photon imaging, enabling simultaneous high-speed activity recordings at every synapse on a cortical neuron in an awake, behaving mouse.