Brain researchers convert viruses into helpers

Brain researchers convert viruses into helpers

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Cold and rabies viruses as helpers in neuroscience

A research team from Göttingen changed rabies viruses and runny nose viruses so that a defused version of the pathogens was created. Using this "tame" version of the virus, the researchers were able to gain new insights into brain networking.

Researchers at the University Medical Center Göttingen - Georg August University were able to visualize the complex networking between the different areas of the brain. This was achieved with the help of "reprogrammed" viruses. The research results were recently presented in the “Cell Reports” journal.

Functions of the brain

Multiple areas of the brain are required to perform an action. The various areas are closely networked to enable this collaboration. The cerebral cortex, for example, is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as sensory perception or decision-making. Movements are coordinated in the cerebellum and memories are stored in the hippocampus.

New insights into the sense of touch and touch

All areas of the brain are networked by nerve cells and their synapses. In this way, real circuits are created in the brain. However, it is still partly unclear which types of nerve cells are required for which processing. With the help of modified viruses, the Göttingen research team has now been able to clarify which circuits in the brain are activated for the processing of stimuli that arise from touching and touching.

Viruses as helpers

The team modified rabies viruses and rhinitis-like viruses so that they could make certain synaptic connections for certain nerve cell types visible across the whole brain. Rabies viruses, in particular, proved to be helpful in this context, since they mainly affect the brain. The researchers modified the viruses so that they formed a green fluorescent protein in the brain cells of mice. These proteins could then be made visible through imaging measures.

Atlas of synaptic connections

Using the starter cell where the virus entered, the researchers were able to uncover the exact network via which the tame viruses spread. It was thus possible to visualize how certain cell types are connected to one another. In this way, an exact atlas of the synaptic connections could be made in the mouse brain.

Valuable information about neuronal diseases

For example, the study found the exact synaptic connections for so-called parvalbumin nerve cells. This cell type plays a central role in several neuronal diseases, including schizophrenia, autism or Alzheimer's.

Advantages of an interdisciplinary collaboration

"It is fascinating that with just a few nanoliters of a virus solution, the most varied cell types can be detected in the entire brain and even the finest structural details of the nerve cells become visible," summarizes doctoral student Georg Hafner from the study team. This study is a good example of how the networking of scientific disciplines, such as neuroanatomy and virology, can lead to new insights. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Georg Hafner, Mirko Witte, Jochen F. Staiger, u.a .: Mapping Brain-Wide Afferent Inputs of Parvalbumin-Expressing GABAergic Neurons in Barrel Cortex Reveals Local and Long-Range Circuit Motifs. Cell Reports, 2019,

Video: Virology Lectures 2017 #24: Unusual Infectious Agents (July 2022).


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