Mapping the mind: A new tool reveals uncharted territories in the brain

Abstract

On a chilly evening in early November, neuroscientist György Buzsáki sat in his lab at New York University, dipped the tip of his finger into a mug of water and drew out a drop. With his other hand, he then quickly draped what looked like a golden ribbon, about an inch wide, over the droplet. Like a wetted Kleenex, the ribbon appeared to melt onto his skin. “It stays the same form as my finger, and you can touch it—it’s just like tissue paper,” he said. Buzsáki’s vision is to apply this ribbonlike construction to the surface of the brain rather than fingertips. He and his team at the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center have designed this so-called NeuroGrid tool to be as thin and pliant as plastic wrap while containing a high density of electrical components. That, he hopes, will help researchers and neurosurgeons to map and record the activity of the brain in new ways. Conventionally, the electrical activity of an individual brain cell is often studied by piercing it with a sharp electrode. In animal research, arrays of sharp electrodes are used to map the activity of many cells in a brain region. But because this process damages the cells, in humans, it is typically done only in a surgical setting and in brain areas that will be removed during a procedure, for example, to treat epilepsy. As a workaround, doctors and researchers operating on patients use ‘surface grids,’ which monitor brain activity without piercing cells. However, surface grids provide recordings akin to the generalized electrical waves detected by an electroencephalogram; they do not record single-cell activity. The NeuroGrid, by contrast, is an array of extremely small, voltage-sensing electrodes placed on the brain surface, and it aims to capture the chatter of single neurons without causing any cellular damage. Buzsáki and a multidisciplinary team of brain scientists and surgeons are developing this ultra-thin tool for basic research, and potentially, for clinical use. So far, the NeuroGrid has offered preliminary data on new neurological phenomena related to memory formation and brain maturation in the cortices of lab animals, and recent experiments are testing its use in people1. Buzsáki has gained a bit of momentum for the project: in September, he received a grant worth approximately $3 million over three years from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to develop the NeuroGrid further. The flexible tool could be “a tremendous advance for human neuroscience,” says Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Center for Neural Engineering & Prostheses, a collaboration of the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. Chang points out that at least a dozen labs are working on methods for increasing the resolution of flexible, noninvasive brainrecording grids2. For example, Jonathan Viventi, a biomedical engineer at Duke University, and Vanessa Tolosa, a mechanical engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, are both developing arrays, Chang says. But the NeuroGrid is more flexible and conformable than many of the grids in development, notes Buzsáki. “The cr ed it D io n K ho da gh ol y

DOI: 10.1038/nm0217-144

Cite this paper

@article{Johnson2017MappingTM, title={Mapping the mind: A new tool reveals uncharted territories in the brain}, author={Madeleine Johnson}, journal={Nature Medicine}, year={2017}, volume={23}, pages={144-146} }