Rats' Collar Scans Their Brains

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BY STEVEN SPARKMAN You're watching multisource science news analysis from Newsy Interested in PET-tin...
BY STEVEN SPARKMAN You're watching multisource science news analysis from Newsy Interested in PET-ting a lab rat? Neuroscientists are. Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have built a new device to perform PET scans, a neuro-imaging technique, on wide-awake, moving rats. They call it the RatCAP, for “rat conscious animal PET.” It’s a miniaturized scanner rats can wear like a collar. The researchers attached it to pulleys and weights so the rats can walk around while being scanned. (Image source: Brookhaven National Laboratory, Nature) The benefit of PET scans is that it allows researchers to scan the brain in real time. The drawback is that until now the brain in question had to hold still. A writer for IEEE Spectrum explains why this limitation is so frustrating. “Other miniature PET scanners have existed before the RatCAP ... but, as with human scanners, each requires that the animal stay motionless and prostrate. The only way to keep a rat still is to anesthetize it. But by doing this, you alter the animal's brain chemistry just as you're trying to measure it.” The main benefit of the RatCAP is that peering into the mind of a rat on the go lets researchers study how brain chemistry affects behavior. Researcher Paul Vaska thinks this will allow two separate disciplines to come together. “There’s a whole field of neuroscience called behavioral neuroscience where people only look at the behavior of the rat in order to infer the function of the brain. This allows us to actually look at physical processes in the brain at the same time. So there’s a lot of excitement about being able to correlate these two different data sets to learn potentially much more about the brain.” (Video source: Brookhaven National Laboratory) The research is off to a good start. The team used their device to study the rats’ dopamine levels, a chemical tied to reward and motivation. DOTmed explains their findings. “Already, the researchers said they found something new: awake animals had less dopamine activity than the anesthetized animals, even though behavioral activity is generally associated with higher dopamine levels.” The BBC adds: “That the Ratcap is already yielding insights and contrasts with established studies is an indication of the neurology secrets it may tap into.” The researchers said the next move is to scan the rats during mating, but so far the devices seem to get in the way. 'Like' Newsy on Facebook for updates in your news feed Get more multisource video news analysis from Newsy Transcript by Newsy