In publica commoda

Press release: Watching synapses at work

Nr. 70/2015 - 16.04.2015

Göttingen researchers monitor synapse activity in the brain of living fruit flies

(pug) Using a novel method, scientists at Göttingen University can monitor the activity of nerve cells in the brains of living fruit flies. Thus far, questions concerning synaptic activity have generally been investigated on tissue specimens or in isolated, cultivated cells. Using high-resolution two-photon microscopy, researchers are now able to follow how certain synapses in the intact brain of the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly react to odour stimulation and what synaptic changes take place when these stimuli are stopped for longer periods of time. The results have been published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

Synapses are the contact sites between neurons. The Göttingen neurobiologists bred fruit flies that carry fluorescent sensor proteins at targeted synapses in the brain: These proteins change their fluorescent properties whenever the synapse reacts to the activity of its nerve cell. By this method, the researchers were able to observe exactly how the synapses responded when the fly was confronted with odour stimulation. But there's more: If the flies were exposed to an apple odour for longer periods, specific alterations were detectable at certain synapses in the brain.

"The brains of animals are plastic and enable the animals to learn to store memories, allowing them to adapt to changing environmental conditions,” explains the study's lead investigator, Professor André Fiala of the Johann Friedrich Blumenbach Institute for Zoology and Anthropology at Göttingen University. "We have now been able to create a methodological access to the brain of a living creature to observe which synapses are changed by certain experiences." By the simultaneous registration of plasticity in a multitude of synapses, the scientists hope to establish principles on how brains store and code information in constantly changing complex networks of nerve cells.

Original publication: Ulrike Pech et al. Optical Dissection of Experience-Dependent Pre- and Postsynaptic Plasticity in the Drosophila Brain. Cell Reports 2015. Doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.02.065.

Contact address:
Professor André Fiala, DSc
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Faculty of Biology and Psychology
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach Institute of Zoology and Anthropology
Department of Molecular Neurobiology of Behavior
Julia-Lermontowa-Weg 3, 37077 Göttingen
Phone +49 (0)551/ 39-177920