Nanoscale neuronal activity measured for the first time

September 18, 2013

A new technique that allows scientists to measure the electrical activity in the communication junctions of the nervous systems has been developed by a researcher at Queen Mary University of London.

The junctions in the central nervous systems that enable the information to flow between neurons, known as synapses, are around 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair (one micrometer and less) and as such are difficult to target let alone measure.

By applying a high-resolution that allows three-dimensional visualisation of the structures, the team were able to measure and record the flow of current in small synaptic terminals for the first time.

"We replaced the conventional low-resolution optical system with a high-resolution microscope based on a nanopipette," said Dr Pavel Novak, a bioengineering specialist from Queen Mary's School of Engineering and Materials Science.

"The nanopipette hovers above the surface of the sample and scans the structure to reveal its three-dimensional topography. The same nanopipette then attaches to the surface at selected locations on the structure to record electrical activity. By repeating the same procedure for different locations of the we can obtain a three-dimensional map of its electrical properties and activity."

The research, published today in Neuron, opens a new window into the at nanometre scale, and may contribute to the wider effort of understanding the function of the brain represented by the Brain Activity Map Project (BRAIN initiative), which aims to map the function of each individual neuron in the .

The research also involves scientists from University College London and Imperial College London.

Explore further: Scientists aim to analyse a whole mouse brain under the electron microscope

Related Stories

A new tool for brain research

July 31, 2013

Physicists and neuroscientists from The University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham have unlocked one of the mysteries of the human brain, thanks to new research using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) ...

Capturing brain activity with sculpted light

September 9, 2013

Scientists at the Campus Vienna Biocenter (Austria) have found a way to overcome some of the limitations of light microscopy. Applying the new technique, they can record the activity of a worm's brain with high temporal ...

Recommended for you

Wiring rules untangle brain circuitry

December 1, 2015

Our brains contain billions of neurons linked through trillions of synaptic connections, and although disentangling this wiring may seem like mission impossible, a research team from Baylor College of Medicine took on the ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.