London: Scientists have colour marked individual brain cells to help improve their understanding of how the brain works.
Our brain has billions of cells and to be able to distinguish them at the single-cell level, and to modify their activity, is crucial to understand such a complex organ, said researchers from the University of Southampton.
The new marking technique, known as multicolour RGB tracking, allows single cells to be encoded with a heritable colour mark generated by a random combination of the three basic colours (red, green and blue).
Brains are injected with a solution containing three viral vectors, each producing one fluorescent protein in each of the three colours.
Each individual cell will take on a combination of the three colours to acquire a characteristic watermark.
Once the cell has been marked, the mark integrates into the DNA and will be expressed forever in that cell, as well as in any daughter cells.
"With this technique, we have proved the effective spatial and temporal tracking of neural cells, as well as the analysis of cell progeny," said Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola at the University of Southampton, who led the multicolour RGB tracking research.
"This innovative approach is primarily focused to improve neuroscience research, from allowing analysis of clonality to the completion of effective live imaging at the single-cell level.
"We predict that the use of multicolour RGB tracking will have an impact on how neuroscientists around the world design their experiments.
"It will allow them to answer questions they were unable to tackle before and contribute to the progress of understanding how our brain works," Gomez-Nicola said.
For the researchers, the next step is to change the physiology or identity of certain cells by driving multiple genetic modification of genes of interest with the RGB vectors.
In the same way they made cells express fluorescent proteins, researchers hope they can change the cell expression of target genes, which would underpin gene therapy-based therapeutic approaches.
The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.