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The technology is widely applicable, the researchers say, because trans-Tango doesn't depend on the neurotransmitters involved in a neural connection or on the types of neurons that are connected. As long as two neurons join at a synapse, trans-Tango allows scientists to label the cells connected to a starter neuron, experiments in the paper show.
Moreover, because trans-Tango works by instigating the expression of genes in connected pairs of neurons, it also has the potential to enable scientists to control circuit functions, said senior and corresponding author Gilad Barnea, an associate professor of neuroscience at Brown who began looking for a precise, reliable and general way to visualize neural connections two decades ago. The application of trans-Tango that his team demonstrates in the new study is circuit tracing, but manipulations such as activating or shutting off connected neurons could become possible, too.
Accessibility - Context - Connectivity - Barnea - Technique
"trans-Tango provides genetic accessibility in the context of connectivity," Barnea said. "Our technique allows you to access the neurons that interact with the particular 'starter' cell you target. It therefore expands the use of molecular genetic techniques beyond the cell for which you have a marker to the ones it 'talks' to."
The team, which includes postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, research assistants and undergraduates, is now working on developing a host of other applications of trans-Tango. These include using the system to manipulate behavior, developing the equivalent technique in mice, and making it work in reverse so that it employs incoming connections from other neurons just like it does outgoing connections. That's according to Mustafa Talay, a postdoctoral fellow who earned his Ph.D. in Barnea's lab and is co-lead author with Ethan Richman, a former undergraduate at Brown who is now a graduate student at Stanford.
Addition - Barnea - Lab - Technology - Cancer
In addition, the Barnea lab is collaborating on adapting the technology to study how cancer spreads.
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