Neurons sprawl through every region of our body firing electrical signals from place to place. Devastating neurological diseases from Parkinson’s to paralysis are caused by malfunctions of this network. Studying the behaviour of these neurons in patients is tricky, and experiments with animals can only reveal so much, so researchers use human cells grown in a lab. Developing the ability to do this was a revolution in itself, but how best to study the neurons’ behaviour now that they’re accessible? A new technique uses an array of silicon nanowires (coloured green in this electron micrograph) to measure the electrical activity of single neurons (orange). The wires lightly poke into the nerve cell and measure tiny changes in ion concentrations inside and outside of the cell. In doing so, they track how it responds to, for example, a new treatment for a disease, providing a testing ground for new medical approaches.
Written by Anthony Lewis
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