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Gold Nanoparticles Highlight Brain Function

by Editor1 last modified May 15, 2008 - 12:36

Researchers at Brown University have created a new type of dye-free optical probe that can directly sense naturally occurring neural activity by imbedding gold nanoparticles into tissue culture and thus measure the electrical activity of live neurons.

Gold Nanoparticles Highlight Brain Function

Brown U. researchers use gold nanoparticles to optically sense local electric fields in the brain, produced when nearby neurons fire.

The gold nanoparticles are used to optically sense the local electric fields produced when nearby neurons fire. The neuronal activity modulates the electron density at the surface of the nanoparticle, which causes an observable spectral shift that the researchers can monitor.

The microscopic structure of the human brain is almost incomprehensibly complicated, understanding this circuitry, the aim of modern neuroscience. Exploring the brain's microcircuitry has traditionally been done by lining up tiny electrodes within or near single neurons to probe their electrical activity.

The gold nanoparticles are used to optically sense the local electric fields produced when nearby neurons fire. The neuronal activity modulates the electron density at the surface of the nanoparticle, which causes an observable spectral shift that the researchers can monitor.

The work, done by Brown’s Jiayi Zhang, Tolga Atay, and Arto Nurmikko and entitled “Detection of Neural Cell Activity Using Plasmonic Gold Nanoparticles" was presented at the 2008 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Science Conference (CLEO/QELS) in San Jose, CA in May.