By Paschal Abu
Scientists have used virtual reality technology to study the brain activity of laboratory mice for several years. In the past, they usually placed the mice around a flat monitor, but this method is far less effective in simulating the real environment. There are obvious limitations.
Recently, a team from Northwestern University successfully developed miniature VR glasses, which for the first time simulated threats from above mice and recorded their brain activity.
According to IT House, the system is called Micro Rodent Stereoscopic Illumination VR (iMRSIV). It is not fixed on the head of the mouse like a human VR headset but is placed in front of the treadmill. When the mouse runs in place, when moving, the glasses surround their entire field of vision.
“We designed and built a custom mount for these glasses,” said John Issa, co-first author of the study.
“The entire optical display – the screen and lenses – surrounds the mouse,” he added.
In tests, mice seemed to adapt to new VR environments better than in the past, the researchers said. To simulate threats such as birds swooping for food, the team projected expanding black dots across the top of the display.
Co-first author Dom Pink said that their response to such threats “is not a learned behaviour, but an imprinted behaviour that is implanted in the brains of mice.”
Using this method, the researchers were able to record the mice’s external body responses, such as freezing in place or speeding away, as well as their neural activity.
In the future, they might change the scenario and put mice in the role of predators to see what happens when they hunt insects.
A research paper on the technology was published in the journal Neuron on Friday.