Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Tiny microscopes reveal hidden role of nervous system cells

28.04.2016

A microscope about the size of a penny is giving scientists a new window into the everyday activity of cells within the spinal cord. The innovative technology revealed that astrocytes--cells in the nervous system that do not conduct electrical signals and were traditionally viewed as merely supportive--unexpectedly react to intense sensation.

The new miniaturized microscope and related imaging methods, described by Salk Institute scientists on April 28, 2016 in Nature Communications, offer unprecedented insight into nervous system function and could lead to novel pain treatments for spinal cord injuries, chronic itch and neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


Salk Institute scientists show the surprising involvement of cells called astrocytes in spinal sensory processing. Here, astrocytes (genetically labeled in green) in a spinal cord (co-stained with glial fibrillary acidic protein, red, to visualize its outline) react to the activity of sensation with their own chemical signals.

Credit: Salk Institute

The spinal cord is crucial for sensing and responding to the world. Sometimes it even works independently from the brain, such as when your hand recoils from a hot stove before the sensation has fully registered. But it is unknown exactly how the cells within the spinal cord encode these and other feelings from the skin or internal organs.

In the new study, senior author Axel Nimmerjahn, an assistant professor in Salk's Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center, and his team improved upon the miniaturized microscopes they first described back in 2008. The researchers' new version--which features numerous hardware and software improvements--enabled them to visualize changes in cellular activity in awake, roaming mice.

"For a long time, researchers have dreamed of being able to record cellular activity patterns in the spinal cord of an awake animal. On top of that, we can now do this in a freely behaving animal, which is very exciting," says first author Kohei Sekiguchi, a Salk researcher and PhD student at the University of California, San Diego.

Most of the Salk team's previous work focused on deploying microscopes to observe the brains of living animals. The spinal cord, by contrast, presented a bigger challenge for several reasons. For example, unlike the brain, multiple, independently moving vertebrae surround the spinal cord. The spinal cord is also closer to pulsating organs (heart and lungs), which can hinder stable views of the cells within. However, by developing new microscopy and procedural and computational approaches, the team was able to overcome these challenges and capture the action of living cells in real time and during vigorous movements.

In the new work, the group found that distinct stimuli--such as light touch or pressure--activate different subsets of spinal sensory neurons. They also found that certain features, like the intensity or duration of a given stimulus, are reflected in the activity of the neurons.

To the team's surprise, astrocytes, traditionally thought to be passive support cells, also respond to stimuli (albeit differently than the neurons). Though the astrocytes cannot send electrical signals like neurons can, they generated their own chemical signals in a coordinated way during intense stimuli.

Nimmerjahn is excited about this result because his group has a longstanding interest in understanding astrocytes and their roles in nervous system function and disease. These cells are increasingly appreciated as important players in how the nervous system develops and operates and could serve as promising new drug targets, he says.

"Not only can we now study normal sensory processing, but we can also look at disease contexts like spinal cord injury and how treatments actually affect the cells," says Nimmerjahn.

The team is now working to simultaneously record touch or pain-related activity in the brain and spinal cord using additional iterations of the miniaturized microscopes, which allow them to monitor and manipulate multiple cell types at even higher resolutions.

###

Other researchers on the paper include the Salk Institute's Pavel Shekhtmeyster, Katharina Merten, Alexander Arena, Daniela Cook, Elizabeth Hoffman and Alexander Ngo.

The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Rita Allen Foundation, Whitehall Foundation and Brain Research Foundation; funds from the Waitt Foundation, Hearst Foundations and the Richard Allan Barry Family Charitable Foundation; and research fellowships from the Nakajima Foundation, Mary K. Chapman Foundation, Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation, the Rose Hills Foundation, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Catharina Foundation.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk's mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer's, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin. Learn more at: salk.edu.

Media Contact

Salk Communications
press@salk.edu
858-453-4100

 @salkinstitute

http://www.salk.edu 

Salk Communications | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Astrocytes cellular activity nervous nervous system sensory spinal cord

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed
18.01.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht 127 at one blow...
18.01.2017 | Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>