A longstanding challenge in neuroscience is to understand how the dynamics of large populations of individual neurons contribute to animal behaviour and brain disease. Addressing this challenge has been difficult partly due to lack of appropriate brain imaging technology for visualising cellular dynamics in awake behaving animals. Prof. Schnitzer discusses several new optical technologies of this kind. The miniature integrated fluorescence microscope allows one to monitor the dynamics of up to ~1000 individual genetically identified neurons in behaving mice over weeks, allowing time-lapse studies of the neural codes underlying episodic, emotional and reward related memories. Toward elucidating the interactions between brain areas during active behaviour, multi-axis optical imaging can record the dynamics of two or more neural ensembles residing in different brain regions. Lastly, genetically encoded voltage indicators are progressing rapidly in their capacities to allow high fidelity detection of neural spikes, accurate estimation of spike timing, and studies of oscillatory voltage dynamics in targeted cell types of awake behaving animals.
Prof. Mark J. Schnitzer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and an Associate Professor at Stanford University, USA with a joint appointment in the Departments of Biology and of Applied Physics.
Prof. Schnitzer is the Co-Director of the Cracking the Neural Code Programme and is a faculty member of the Neuroscience, Biophysics, and Molecular Imaging Programs in the Stanford School of Medicine, as well as of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute and Stanford Bio-X. Prof. Schnitzer has longstanding interests in neural circuit dynamics and optical imaging, and his optical innovations are used in over a hundred neuroscience labs in the USA, Europe and Asia, and in the neuropharmaceutical industry. The miniature integrated fluorescence microscope invented in his lab was named the 2013 Innovation of the Year by The Scientist magazine. He is a member of the National Institutes of Health working group for President Obama's BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies).