A team led by Ralph Jimenez of JILA is studying neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by measuring neurons firing deep inside animal brains. 

The innovative laser microscopy technique, which scientists hope can be carried over from mouse to human research, involves shooting pairs of photons, or packets of light, into brain tissue. The photons are absorbed by neurons that have been genetically engineered to emit a different color of light during the interaction. The emitted light is then used to create a 3-D image of the brain’s inner workings. 

The technique improves upon current methods by allowing deeper penetration into brain tissue without heating or damaging neurons. Researchers will ultimately be able to access brain regions where learning and memory occur. 

The research could lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatment options.