Neuron 'harpoons' probe the internal electrical activity of a single neuron, allowing a more refined look at how brain cells respond to signals from neighboring cells.
A tiny spear made of carbon nanotubes can probe the internal electrical activity of a single neuron, giving researchers a more refined look at how brain cells respond to signals from their neighboring cells. Probing the brain at this resolution could be vital to efforts to understand and map its function in new detail .
The neuron “harpoons” are just 5 to 10 micrometers wide and can pierce a living cell to measure electrical changes associated with neuronal signaling. In dissected slices of still-active mouse brain tissue, researchers at Duke University were able to record from inside a single neuron at a time.
“To our knowledge, our paper shows the first intracellular recording with carbon nanotubes from vertebrate neurons,” says Bruce Donald, a biochemist and computer scientist at Duke University.
Carbon nanotubes have many desirable properties for brain recordings, says Donald: they are strong, they are compatible with body tissues, and they conduct electricity well. But previous devices built from carbon nanotubes have been too short or wide to be well suited for recording inside cells. The probes built by the Duke researchers, however, were around one millimeter long and lent themselves to monitoring electrical activity more precisely than typical glass or metal electrode setups.