Breakthrough imaging at Queensland Brain Institute enabled by ZEISS ELYRA super-resolution microscopy
A Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) team is among the first in neuroscience to see the brain’s tiniest molecules in action and plot their movements. Professor Fred Meunier’s laboratory at QBI’s Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research, Queensland, Australia has developed a breakthrough technique with a ZEISS Elyra super-resolution microscopy system.
“The technique will be revolutionary for neuroscientists and cell biologists,” Professor Meunier said. “This is an exciting time, as we’ve opened the door for many more ground-breaking studies that will change our view of how molecules function to make the brain work. These images could further our understanding of memory, learning, and neurodegenerative diseases.”
Imaging captures movement within individual nerve connections
The breakthrough imaging technique captures the movement of molecules within synapses – structures connecting brain cells – that are too small for conventional microscopes. Classical optical microscopes can only clearly identify objects that are 200 nanometres (1/5000th of a millimetre). Super-resolution microscopy techniques that are made possible with ZEISS Elyra can achieve 10 to 20 times higher resolution (closer to electron microscopy), even on living cells.
Professor Meunier’s team has gone one step further by extending super-resolution capabilities to explore the dynamics of the nanoworld of our brain cells, including:
- Tracking single molecules in living brain cells undergoing communication
- Tracking these molecules within brain cells of living organisms such as fruit flies
- Tracking single tiny structures, called synaptic vesicles, that are responsible for the release of neurotransmitters at the synapse
- Imaging tiny signalling endosomes responsible for brain cell survival as they move from the synapse to the cell body.
“We can now see molecules organise themselves in real life, viewing the nitty gritty of mechanisms that allow neurons to communicate,” Professor Meunier said. “You see molecules moving randomly and then, for a few milliseconds, interacting with each other. Control of these critical moments define neurotransmission and allow brain cells to communicate efficiently.”
The technique has led to a series of papers from Professor Meunier’s team published in the Journal of Cell Biology and Nature Communications. The research was funded by the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Based on positive feedback, the Journal of Cell Biology selected two of the Meunier lab’s papers as part of a Special Collection made available for free.
About the QBI:
The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) was established in 2003, with building of the existing site commissioned in 2007. In the past decade, the Institute has achieved remarkable success, and is currently led by Professor Pankaj Sah. Underpinning this success are the major scientific discoveries that QBI researchers are making every day. Since inaugural Director Professor Perry Bartlett co-authored QBI’s first publication in the prestigious Nature journal, the Institute has published over 1,200 papers. The quality of work produced by QBI researchers is demonstrated by the Institute’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australia Research Council (ARC) grant success, attracting over $110 million in competitive grant funding to date. These grants are awarded following a rigorous, competitive and open peer review, and QBI continually achieves a success rate far above the national average. It is QBI’s excellence in the field that has played a key role in The University of Queensland (UQ) attaining the highest possible score of five for neuroscience, “well above world standard”, in both the 2010 and 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) reviews, one of only two universities in Australia to achieve this.