Researchers have used advanced genetic engineering techniques to make a breakthrough in sleep studies. A bacterial protein has been transformed into a new research tool. It overtakes existing methods of monitoring serotonin transmission.
A New Experiment
Researchers of the National Institute of Health have conducted preclinical experiments primarily with mice. These experiments have shown that the AI sensor can detect subtle changes in the serotonin levels of the brain. The changes may occur during sleep, fear, and social interactions. The drug can also test the effectiveness of new psychoactive drugs.
Previously, scientists of Howard Hughes Medical Institute used traditional genetic engineering techniques. The object was to convert the bacterial protein, OpuBC, into a sensor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. However, these methods can only detect broad changes in serotonin signaling.
In the current study, researchers transformed a nutrient-grabbing, Venus flytrap-shaped bacterial protein into a very sensitive sensor. This sensor exhibits a fluorescent light when it captures serotonin. 250,000 new designs for the sensor had been created using machine learning algorithms.
Benefits of the AI Sensor
Experiments on both human and mouse brains showed differing reactions to neurotransmitters. However, experimenting with cells on Petri dishes showed that the sensor can identify changes caused by drugs like cocaine, MDMA, and other antidepressants.
The new AI sensor also makes it easier to observe sleep under natural conditions. Researchers saw an expected rise in serotonin when the mice were awake, and a fall when they were asleep. A greater drop was observed in the deeper, R.E.M. sleep states.
A rise in serotonin levels was also registered when the mice faced a fear factor. They were warned of a foot shock by a ringing bell. Serotonin levels rose differently in two separate brain circuits – the median prefrontal cortex and the basolateral amygdala.
The researchers plan to make this advanced sleep sensor accessible to other scientists. The objective is to understand better the critical role of serotonin in our day to day life. It would also be a great stride in understanding psychiatric conditions.