Light-based mapping of cortical reorganization after stroke in channelrhodopsin-2 mice

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability. Although the physical damage is irreversible, many deficits seen immediately after a stroke disappear in the following weeks. This spontaneous recovery is partly due a to reorganization of the brain’s circuitry. The adult brain was long thought to be hardwired, but new evidence has demonstrated that the firing patterns of neurons and the connections between them are constantly changing, giving the brain the flexibility to learn, form new memories and adapt to injuries. This plasticity is especially evident after a stroke. Surviving brain areas are not only able to compensate for the absence of neurons lost to stroke, but can even take on functions formerly carried out by the destroyed area. However, whether rewired neurons in reorganized brain regions maintain the ability to perform their original duties has yet to be determined. Enhancement or modification of the brain’s natural repair processes represents a logical target for new stroke treatments, of which there are few. Thomas Harrison’s research will characterise brain plasticity during the period of spontaneous recovery after stroke using a variety of methods, including a new light-based mapping technique. He will track reorganization from the level of brain regions down to single neurons in transgenic mice before and after stroke. The resulting improved understanding of stroke-induced plasticity may enable the identification of the natural mechanisms of recovery that are most beneficial, and provide the opportunity to screen drugs or therapies for their ability to facilitate these biological pathways. In a larger sense, Mr. Harrison’s research will also advance our understanding of plasticity in the adult brain, which has important implications for learning, addiction and recovery from other forms of brain damage.