Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Starting Sound

Sensitivity of a protein found in humans and other animals to ultrasound used as a target to activate brain and other cell types

12 April 2022

Starting Sound

The whistle blows and the game starts. Researchers are hoping they too can use a burst of sound to spark a flurry of activity, just on a smaller scale. Previous work showed that it was possible to use ultrasound to activate cells in microscopic worms by adding particular proteins to neurons [brain cells], but repeating the feat in mammal cells proved more difficult. A recent study tested hundreds of human proteins and found one sensitive to an ultrasound frequency well known to be safe for humans. TRPA1 is a protein that responds to the environment to control tiny channels in cells. The team found that when added to human neurons in the lab or living mouse brains (pictured, TRPA1 in red), it can activate neurons in response to ultrasound. This could eventually enable deep brain stimulation or pacemakers in patients without the need for surgically implanted devices.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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