Annual Reviews of Neuroscience published their 2009 issue recently. These articles are usually a great way to catch up with a field, particularly when they are recently published. Here are a few that might be of interest to the Brain Windows reader.
Sensory experience and learning alter sensory representations in cerebral cortex. The synaptic mechanisms underlying sensory cortical plasticity have long been sought. Recent work indicates that long-term cortical plasticity is a complex, multicomponent process involving multiple synaptic and cellular mechanisms. Sensory use, disuse, and training drive long-term potentiation and depression (LTP and LTD), homeostatic synaptic plasticity and plasticity of intrinsic excitability, and structural changes including formation, removal, and morphological remodeling of cortical synapses and dendritic spines. Both excitatory and inhibitory circuits are strongly regulated by experience. This review summarizes these findings and proposes that these mechanisms map onto specific functional components of plasticity, which occur in common across the primary somatosensory, visual, and auditory cortices.
Diffusion imaging can be used to estimate the routes taken by fiber pathways connecting different regions of the living brain. This approach has already supplied novel insights into in vivo human brain anatomy. For example, by detecting where connection patterns change, one can define anatomical borders between cortical regions or subcortical nuclei in the living human brain for the first time. Because diffusion tractography is a relatively new technique, however, it is important to assess its validity critically. We discuss the degree to which diffusion tractography meets the requirements of a technique to assess structural connectivity and how its results compare to those from the gold-standard tract tracing methods in nonhuman animals. We conclude that although tractography offers novel opportunities it also raises significant challenges to be addressed by further validation studies to define precisely the limitations and scope of this exciting new technique.
The ultimate goal of neural interface research is to create links between the nervous system and the outside world either by stimulating or by recording from neural tissue to treat or assist people with sensory, motor, or other disabilities of neural function. Although electrical stimulation systems have already reached widespread clinical application, neural interfaces that record neural signals to decipher movement intentions are only now beginning to develop into clinically viable systems to help paralyzed people. We begin by reviewing state-of-the-art research and early-stage clinical recording systems and focus on systems that record single-unit action potentials. We then address the potential for neural interface research to enhance basic scientific understanding of brain function by offering unique insights in neural coding and representation, plasticity, brain-behavior relations, and the neurobiology of disease. Finally, we discuss technical and scientific challenges faced by these systems before they are widely adopted by severely motor-disabled patients.
Since the work of Golgi and Cajal, light microscopy has remained a key tool for neuroscientists to observe cellular properties. Ongoing advances have enabled new experimental capabilities using light to inspect the nervous system across multiple spatial scales, including ultrastructural scales finer than the optical diffraction limit. Other progress permits functional imaging at faster speeds, at greater depths in brain tissue, and over larger tissue volumes than previously possible. Portable, miniaturized fluorescence microscopes now allow brain imaging in freely behaving mice. Complementary progress on animal preparations has enabled imaging in head-restrained behaving animals, as well as time-lapse microscopy studies in the brains of live subjects. Mouse genetic approaches permit mosaic and inducible fluorescence-labeling strategies, whereas intrinsic contrast mechanisms allow in vivo imaging of animals and humans without use of exogenous markers. This review surveys such advances and highlights emerging capabilities of particular interest to neuroscientists.