PET scan technology, or positron emission tomography, is an extremely important tool in neuroscience. Aside from their use in medicine for the detection of neurological disease, tumors, and stroke, PET scans – like fMRI scans – can measure molecular activity in specific regions of the brain and answer important questions about neurophysiology. Until now, PET scans have been limited to humans. A research group from Brookhaven National Laboratory recently published an article in Nature detailing a customized PET for rodents.
Unlike the human PET, which requires subjects to be immobilized, the rodent PET scan allows the animal to move freely while its brain is scanned. This seemingly small detail has immense consequences for neuroscience research; the behavioral tests that have been used on rodents for the last century (i.e. mazes, wheels, tests of eating behavior, addiction studies, etc etc) can now be accompanied by visual representations of regional brain activity.
I assume scientifically inclined gerbil owners eagerly await a custom gerbil-fitted PET scan…if not for home experiments, they can at least make sure their furry pets have clean bills of health.