Self-Inactivating Rabies Virus for Lifelong Brain Tracing
Neural networks, circuits of neurons, are emerging as the fundamental computational unit of the brain and it is becoming progressively clearer that neural network dysfunction is at the core of a number of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Yet our ability to target and study specific neural networks remains limited. Until now Rabies virus, which can jump synapses, has been used to investigate neural networks. However, the virus causes neuronal death resulting in a very short time window in which the networks can be studied. Work by Marco Tripodi’s group in the LMB’s Neurobiology Division has resulted in a novel approach which provides, for the first time, a life-long ability to study neural networks, without affecting their normal physiology.
Ernesto Ciabatti and Marco Tripodi designed a self-inactivating Rabies virus (SiR), which retains the ability to jump synapses, thus reaching the entire neural network, but does not cause neuronal death. During the initial viral infection, the neurons in the network are permanently labeled and genetic manipulation is made possible. The virus can modify the neurons so they constantly produce a fluorescent protein, allowing the network to be visualized. Crucially, Marco’s group modified the virus by adding a tunable switch – the SiR contains selected proteins which can be targeted for degradation. Without these proteins, the virus is unable to replicate and switches off after the initial infection, thus avoiding death of the neurons and leaving them permanently labeled but virus-free.
Progress in science often depends on new techniques and with this novel approach it is now finally possible to genetically manipulate neural networks and follow their behavior over prolonged periods of time. This will be important at a basic science level to understand how the brain works, and excitingly will also offer insight into how neural networks change upon experience and learning. In addition, this new technique will pave the way to the engineering of the genetic content of selected neurons within a network, which would be extremely useful in neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders where disease genes could be targeted, with therapeutic potential.
Ciabatti, E., González-Rueda, A., Mariotti, L., Morgese, F. and Tripodi, M. (2017). Life-Long Genetic and Functional Access to Neural Circuits Using Self-Inactivating Rabies Virus. Cell.
This article has been republished from materials provided by the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Flavins Keep a Handy Helper in Their PocketNews
A team has now shown in detail how oxygen interacts with the flavin in an enzyme - revealing for the first time precisely how it works. Flavins play a key role in metabolic processes, in the immune system and in neural development in humans - and are equally important to bacteria, fungi and plants.READ MORE
Dark Chocolate Good For Mind and BodyNews
New research shows that consuming dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao has positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity. While it is well known that cacao is a major source of flavonoids, this is the first time the effect has been studied in human subjects to determine how it can support cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health.READ MORE
Neuronal Activity Regulates Neurotransmitter Switching in the Adult BrainNews
New study implicates a role for light-induced electrical activity in controlling chemical codes.READ MORE