Brain scans now catch chemicals too

Written by Science Knowledge on 1:21 AM

A CHEMICAL produced during sex and l inked to addiction has been visualised in a scanner as it washes across rats' brains. The feat means that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a workhorse of neuroscience, can now be used to observe the flow of brain chemicals, not just oxygen - rich blood. By pin pointing increases in blood oxygenation in the brain in response to different events - a sign that specific groups of neurons are active - fMRI is responsible for some of the hottest findings about the brain . Now Alan jasan off at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues have extended its power.

His team repeatedly mutated a magnetic, iron-containing enzyme that "lights up" i n fMRI readings. With each mutation, the researchers tested its tendency to bind to dopamine, a learning and reward chemical in the brain involved in sex and addictive behaviors. Mutations that increased this tendency were combined, resulting in a molecule that was both magnetic and strongly attracted to dopamine.

The team injected the molecule into the brains of rats, in a region laden with dopamine-producing celis. When given a chemical that triggers dopamine release, that area "lit up" under fMRI (Nature Biotechnology, 001: 1O.103B/nbt.1609). Because the molecule must be injected into the brain, this kind of chemical- based fMRI won't be applied to humans anytime soon, says jasan off. b u t it could be used to probe addiction and disease using animals. His lab is now using the enzyme to view how dopamine-sensitive neurons across animal brains react when the chemical is produced in a specific region. The technique could also be used to probe dopamine's role in diseases such as Huntington's. The magnetic enzyme can in theory b e "evolved" t o b i n d t o other brain chemicals. Ewen Callaway

Source of Information : New Scientist March 6 2010

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In its broadest sense, science (from the Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") refers to any systematic knowledge or practice. In its more usual restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research.

Fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines: natural sciences, which study natural phenomena (including biological life), and social sciences, which study human behavior and societies. These groupings are empirical sciences, which means the knowledge must be based on observable phenomena and capable of being experimented for its validity by other researchers working under the same conditions.


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