Tapered optical fibers allow making photometry in the brain

A team of scientists from Italy has developed a light-based fiber optic technology that enables them to catch and detect neural activity in the brain. To be more precise, such a fiber technology simultaneously collects signals from different parts of the brain by applying a tapered fiber optic probe.

The operating principle of tapered optical fibers is based on “bringing fluorescent molecules into specific nerve cells to track their electric activity and measure the level of neurotransmitters.” Thus, the achievement of it requires the application of a tapered optical fiber that allows catching light from single neurons and collecting the light over an extent of up to 2 mm of tissue and multisite photometry along the taper.

It should be noted that the fiber optic system has been already tested, the scientists installed the light-sensing fiber probe inside the striatum (a brain area responsible for planning movements) and employed the fiber optic probe to control the release of dopamine, which is responsible for motor control and is in charge of the development of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and depression. 

They succeded to detect neural activity in specific subregions of the striatum included the release of dopamine during specific behaviors. Only single tapered optical fiber is able to determine simultaneously distinct dopamine transients in the dorsal and ventral striatum in freely moving mice performing a simple behavioral conditioning task.

Thus, the new fiber optic technology has enabled researchers to understand how nerve signals travel in time and space and gauge the concentration of specific neurotransmitters during specific actions. Nevertheless, finally, it was found that it is possible to design collection volumes from the tapered optical fibers in both shape and size due to the opportunity to microstructure the nonplanar surface of the taper.

Additionally, scientists can optically target numerous regions not only in the deep brain but potentially in any biological system or organ in which light collection is difficult to be performed thanks to light scattering and absorption presented by the developed fiber optic system. Such optical fibers are highly promising and may enlarge researchers’ methodological repertoire, as well as offer a foundation for finding new ways to map connections across various brain areas.

The new fiber optic system provides an ability that could result in the development of devices to image different areas of the brain and even treat conditions that arise from malfunctions in cells inhabiting these areas. The research about the development of the approach based on tapered optical fibers was published in Nature Methods (www.doi.org/10.1038/s41592-019-0581-x).

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