Illuminating the Activated Brain: Emerging Activity-Dependent Tools to Capture and Control Functional Neural Circuits

  • Qiye He
  • Jihua Wang
  • Hailan Hu


Immediate-early genes (IEGs) have long been used to visualize neural activations induced by sensory and behavioral stimuli. Recent advances in imaging techniques have made it possible to use endogenous IEG signals to visualize and discriminate neural ensembles activated by multiple stimuli, and to map whole-brain-scale neural activation at single-neuron resolution. In addition, a collection of IEG-dependent molecular tools has been developed that can be used to complement the labeling of endogenous IEG genes and, especially, to manipulate activated neural ensembles in order to reveal the circuits and mechanisms underlying different behaviors. Here, we review these techniques and tools in terms of their utility in studying functional neural circuits. In addition, we provide an experimental strategy to measure the signal-to-noise ratio of IEG-dependent molecular tools, for evaluating their suitability for investigating relevant circuits and behaviors.


Immediate-early gene Emotion Activity-dependent tools Neural ensembles c-fos Arc 



This review was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81571335, 91432108 and 81527901) and grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2016YFA0501000).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors claim that there are no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, CAS and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Neuroscience, and Department of Psychiatry of First Affiliated Hospital, NHC and CAMS Key Laboratory of Medical NeurobiologyZhejiang University School of MedicineHangzhouChina
  2. 2.Interdisciplinary Institute of Neuroscience and Technology, Qiushi Academy for Advanced StudiesZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina

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