High-Resolution Optical Imaging of the Brain’s Synaptic Activity


Columbia has developed a novel fluorescent probe for optical imaging and measurement of synaptic activity in the brain. Born of the need for a tool that would permit direct visualization of neurotransmitter release and uptake and measurement of synaptic activity, the laboratories of David Sulzer, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at P&S, and Dalibor Sames, Ph.D., associate professor in Columbia’s Department of Chemistry, collaborated to create several fluorescent false neurotransmitters (FFNs), a class of highly efficient optical imaging probes that light up sufficiently enough to provide resolution at the individual synaptic level but at concentrations that do not interfere with normal synaptic function.

Previous ways of imaging neurotransmitters have allowed researchers to measure post-synaptic neuronal activity and to observe the vesicle-membrane fusion process but not the neurotransmitter release from individual synapses.

Columbia is working with the private sector to develop the technology that will help scientists illuminate mechanisms that may underlie mental illnesses and neuropathologies.