What Thought Looks Like: Researchers Record Fish Neurons Firing During Hunting (VIDEO)

02/01/2013 06:22 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2013

Well, that's a thought!

For the first time, scientists have captured a video of neuron signals firing across the brain of an unrestrained, living animal. Researchers at Saitama University's Brain Science Institute in Japan made the video using a zebrafish larva, which is largely transparent.

The researchers linked a specially developed protein to the fish's neuronal DNA, which becomes visible in the presence of calcium. Neurons rely on calcium ions to fire, notes ScienceNOW. So when the neurons fired in the presence of the Zebrafish's altered protein, scientists were able to track the fish's neural activity.

In fact, when the larva was exposed to paramecium (which the young zebrafish prey on), scientists could isolate and examine brain cells firing in the fish's optic tectum, a region of the brain devoted to processing eye movement. As they did so, LiveScience reports, researchers could see neural signals "zipping around" the fish's brain.

The researchers were able to correlate the specific firing of neurons with the fish's behavior as it pursued the paramecium, thus identifying -- and visually recording -- the fish's thoughts during "prey capture."

"This technique will really help us understand how we make sense of the world and why we behave the way we do," Martin Meyer, a neuroscientist at King's College London, told ScienceNOW. The publication notes Meyer was not directly involved in the research.

The full study, titled "Real-Time Visualization of Neuronal Activity during Perception," was published in the Jan. 31, 2013, issue of Current Biology.

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