Researchers hoping mini microscopes on mouse could uncover more about Alzheimer’s disease

SINGAPORE – A tiny camera placed on the head of a mouse is offering researchers a window into how the brain functions, and the potential to understand brain diseases in humans including Alzheimer’s.

The 2.4 gram two-photon microscope (Mini2P) transmits live high-resolution images as the rodent jumps about in a laboratory in Norway.

The brain explorer has allowed researchers to record data from thousands of neurons within the brain of the mouse and identify the cells responsible for different functions.

Alzheimer’s is believed to affect at least 50 million worldwide – a number that is expected to grow to more than 152 million by 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

The device was created by Professor May-Britt Moser, researcher Weijian Zong and Prof Moser’s former husband and long-time collaborator Edvard Moser.

They are with the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Describing the device as something out of science fiction, Prof May-Britt Moser said the Mini2P has been able to record almost 400 grid cells simultaneously in the mouse.

“You can imagine all the questions you can start to ask when you have such data,” Prof May-Britt Moser, 59, told The Straits Times.

Grid cells, which have been described as the brain’s internal global positional system, are responsible for allowing people to navigate.

Its discovery won the Mosers, together with American-British scientist John O’Keefe, the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2014.

To see which cells are communicating as the mouse functions, the researchers borrowed a bioluminescence gene from jellyfish.

The camera then captures the brain cells that light up when they talk to each other.

Prof May-Britt Moser said that increasingly, evidence points to Alzheimer’s starting in the brain’s entorhinal cortex, which is responsible for functions such as memory, navigation and sense of time.

Grid cells, which are neurons within the entorhinal cortex, are often the first to be hit among patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.