Imaging system tracks brain activity of a freely moving worm

TO EXPLORE HOW THE BRAIN controls behavior, researchers have for the first time captured the whole-brain activity of a freely moving animal, in this case a nematode worm called Caenorhabditis elegans.

Using an imaging system they designed, Andrew Leifer, a Lewis-Sigler Fellow, and Joshua Shaevitz, an associate professor of physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, measured the activity of 78 of the worm brain’s 125-plus neurons, which they engineered to turn green when active.

The setup consists of cameras that monitor the worm’s position and a motorized stage that adjusts to track the worm as it roams freely. The researchers were able to show significant correlations between neuron activity patterns and behaviors such as moving backward or forward, and turning. The team included Jeffrey Nguyen, a postdoctoral research associate and first author on the study, and colleagues at the Lewis-Sigler Institute and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

The study was posted on the preprint server and was funded by Princeton’s Dean for Research Innovation Fund for New Ideas in the Natural Sciences, the Simons Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Download PDF