Yale University researchers have recently developed a new way to scan brain synapses and observe changes that are linked with mental disorders. Synapses are the junctions through which neurons send messages in the form electric impulses in order to communicate.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine on July 20. The synapse imaging technique discovered by the researchers can provide insight on how to better diagnose and treat various disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
The purpose of the study was to develop a way to measure the amount of synapses, their density, in a living brain. In order to quantify a brain’s synapses, Richard Carson, professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, and his team had the idea to combine PET (positron emission tomography) scans with biochemistry. The result was a radioactive tracer that when injected, it can bind key proteins present in a brain’s synapses. The only thing left to do to determine the synaptic density was scan the brain for the tracer and use mathematics to calculate the exact density.
The novelty element of this study consists in the fact that it allows doctors to evaluate changes in brain synapses even in living patients. They tested the imaging technique on both primates and humans and managed to observe synaptic loss in individuals with epilepsy compared to healthy ones.
“This is the first time we have synaptic density measurement in live human beings. Up to now, any measurement of synaptic density was postmortem.”
This discovery has highly beneficial applications. First of all, it is a noninvasive method for observing the progression of various brain disorders by measuring changes in synaptic density over time. Second of all, it can also be used to see how certain drugs and other chemicals affect neurons and slow their loss caused by aging.
Further research is needed to discover a way for the tracer to last longer in the brain. A key element necessary for accurate test results.
Overall, the discovery of a method for researching how mental disorders affect live patients at a cellular level is a huge step for the possibility of future treatments and preventive measures.
What do you think about this new imaging method for brain synapses? Do you know anyone suffering from mental disorders like epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease?
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