The human brain largely remains a black box: How the network of fast-moving electrical signals turns into thought, movement and disease remains poorly understood. But it is electrical, so it can be hacked--the question is finding a precise, easy way to manipulate electrical signaling between neurons.
A new University of Chicago study shows how tiny, light-powered wires could be fashioned out of silicon to provide these electrical signals. Published Feb. 19 in Nature Nanotechnology, the study offers a new avenue to shed light on--and perhaps someday treat--brain disorders.
Ten years ago, the science world was alive with speculation about a recently discovered technique called optogenetics, which would manipulate neural activity with light. The problem is that it has to be done with genetics: inserting a gene into a target cell that would make it respond to light. Other ways of modulating neurons have since been suggested, but a perfect alternative remains elusive.
A team led by Asst. Prof. Bozhi Tian built minuscule wires previously designed for solar cells. These nanowires are so small that hundreds of them could sit side by side on the edge of a sheet of paper--putting them on the same scale as the parts of cells they're trying to communicate with.
These nanowires combine two types of silicon to create a small electrical current when struck by light. Gold, diffused by a special process onto the surface of the wire, acts as a catalyst to promote electrochemical reactions.
"When the wire is in place and illuminated, the voltage difference between the inside and outside of the cell is slightly reduced. This lowers the barrier for the neuron to fire an electrical signal to its neighboring cells," Tian said.
The team tested the approach with rat neurons grown in a lab, and saw they could indeed trigger neurons to fire these electrical signals.
"The nice thing about it is that both gold and silicon are biologically compatible materials," said graduate student Ramya Parameswaran, the first author on the study. "Also, after they're injected into the body, structures of this size would degrade naturally within a couple of months."
"It's a fundamental but very promising approach," Tian said. They plan next to test the system in animals, which could both help researchers further understand how these electrical signals work in the brain as well as suggest ways to address problems like Parkinson's disease or psychiatric disorders.
The other co-authors were Francisco Bezanilla, the Lillian Eichelberger Cannon Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Erin Adams, the Joseph Regenstein Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; graduate students John Zimmerman (now at Harvard), Kelliann Koehler, Yuanwen Jiang and Andrew Phillips; postdoctoral researchers Jaeseok Yi and João Carvalho-de-Souza; and undergraduate student Michael Burke.
Louise Lerner | EurekAlert!
TU Bergakademie Freiberg researches virus inhibitors from the sea
27.03.2020 | Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg
The Venus flytrap effect: new study shows progress in immune proteins research
27.03.2020 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Together with their colleagues from the University of Würzburg, physicists from the group of Professor Alexander Szameit at the University of Rostock have devised a “funnel” for photons. Their discovery was recently published in the renowned journal Science and holds great promise for novel ultra-sensitive detectors as well as innovative applications in telecommunications and information processing.
The quantum-optical properties of light and its interaction with matter has fascinated the Rostock professor Alexander Szameit since College.
Researchers at the University of Zurich show that different stem cell populations are innervated in distinct ways. Innervation may therefore be crucial for proper tissue regeneration. They also demonstrate that cancer stem cells likewise establish contacts with nerves. Targeting tumour innervation could thus lead to new cancer therapies.
Stem cells can generate a variety of specific tissues and are increasingly used for clinical applications such as the replacement of bone or cartilage....
An international research team led by Kiel University develops an extremely porous material made of "white graphene" for new laser light applications
With a porosity of 99.99 %, it consists practically only of air, making it one of the lightest materials in the world: Aerobornitride is the name of the...
Researchers at Graz University of Technology have developed a framework by which wireless devices with different radio technologies will be able to communicate directly with each other.
Whether networked vehicles that warn of traffic jams in real time, household appliances that can be operated remotely, "wearables" that monitor physical...
Terahertz waves are becoming ever more important in science and technology. They enable us to unravel the properties of future materials, test the quality of...
26.03.2020 | Event News
23.03.2020 | Event News
03.03.2020 | Event News
27.03.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering
27.03.2020 | Life Sciences
27.03.2020 | Life Sciences