UCLA creators of a miniature microscope that can be mounted on the heads of lab animals to provide an invaluable view into the inner workings of the brain have received a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new generation versions of their “miniscope”. ”

The four-year prize, part of the NIH’s BRAIN initiative, will support the design, manufacture and distribution of two types of new two-photon miniscopes that will allow scientists to peer into the brain much more deeply than before. As they have done with previous versions, UCLA researchers will share step-by-step instructions on how others can build and operate their own devices.

“These are very important tools that can be transformative for any neuroscientific question that requires examining the activity of large populations of brain cells in free-behaving animals,” said Dr. Peyman Golshani, professor of neurology at the UCLA and Principal Investigator of the grant.

The UCLA researchers’ miniscope has been used in more than 500 labs around the world since the device was created and shared with other researchers about a decade ago. The open-source nature of their miniscope has “essentially democratized” access to miniature microscopes, Golshani said, noting that similar devices were once sold by private companies for around a hundred times the cost of their model, whose most are commercially available. the materials total around $1,000 to $2,000.

The miniscope, which stands about an inch tall and weighs less than 4 grams, snaps into a baseplate implanted above an animal’s head, capturing neural activity. The data is then sent through a thin wire to a computer for analysis.

Where previously neural activity could only be observed using much larger and heavier microscopes that had to be clamped in place, the miniscope allows researchers to study brain function in animals free of explore their surroundings and helps unlock new knowledge about social behavior, memory and neurological conditions.

Researchers can use the miniscope to study neural activity in healthy animals as they learn something new or engage in behaviors whose associated brain function remains a mystery. They can also study mouse models of neurological disorders – such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy or autism – to potentially understand which types of cells are malfunctioning and how they can be repaired.

The two new miniscopes funded by the NIH grant will produce much higher resolution images than previous versions and will allow researchers to see the fine structure of connections in the brain, rather than just cell bodies. One miniscope will be light enough to be worn by a mouse and have a wider field of view than any similar microscope, and the other can be worn by a rat and image thousands of brain cells simultaneously.

The BRAIN Initiative, the NIH’s effort to support the study of the human brain and potentially spur the development of better ways to diagnose and treat neurological diseases, previously awarded UCLA researchers $3.7 million to design earlier versions of the miniscope.

Other UCLA professors working on miniscopes include Daniel Aharoni, Tad Blair, Anne Churchland and Alcino Silva. Contributors include Julie Bentley of the University of Rochester, Matthew Shtrahman of UC San Diego, and Alipasha Vaziri of Rockefeller University. Blake Madruga, a UCLA neuroscience graduate student, played a key role in the design, construction and testing of the new miniaturized microscopes.