Incredible Video Footage Reveals Just What Happens Inside the Human Brain

neuron
Screenshot of video depicting the flow of transport vesicles containing NgCAM, an axonal protein. Courtesy of Don Arnold and Sar

Scientists have been able to capture on video how the brain works from inside.

Using a new imaging technique with bioluminescent proteins from jellyfish to light up the inside of a neuron, researchers were able to record incredible video footage of proteins, the brain's building blocks, moving inside a neuron to renew its structure.

"Your brain is being disassembled and reassembled every day," co-researcher Don Arnold, associate professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.

"One week from today, your brain will be made up of completely different proteins than it is today," Arnold said. "This video shows the process. We've known that it was happening, but now we can watch it happen."

The new imaging technique used to capture the clip of brain cells being renewed by proteins offers insight into how proteins are directed to one of the two types of compartments inside the neuron: the axon or the dendrites.

The axon is the part of the cell that is responsible for transferring electrical signals to other cells, while the dendrites receive signals from other cells.

"It's been known for many decades that proteins are specifically targeted to one compartment or the other. However, we couldn't understand how the targeting occurs until we could actually watch the proteins traveling to one compartment or to the other," lead researcher Sarmad Al-Bassam said in a statement.

Researchers said that because there are several different overlapping pathways in a neuron, it is difficult to study the flow of proteins inside neurons by just looking at one.

However, Al-Bassam and his team were able to solve the issue by developing a new technique that involves blocking up a single pathway, creating a backlog of transport vesicles (little bubbles that travel up and down neurons carrying membrane protein cargo) filled with the illuminated proteins.

Afterwards the team used a small-molecule drug to release the backlog all at once in a bright pulse and the results were "very surprising," said co-researcher Don Arnold, associate professor of molecular and computational biology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters.

"We found that rather than being targeted specifically to the dendrites, vesicles carrying proteins initially enter both compartments, but then are stopped and prevented from moving beyond the initial segment of the axon," he added.

The findings are published in the journal Cell Reports.

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