University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have announced that the its researchers have reached to new fluorescent dyes that are able to highlight the electric activity in neuronal membranes in order to make those activities optical.
The ability to visualize these small, fast-changing voltage differences between the interior and exterior of neurons – known as transmembrane potential – is considered a powerful method for deciphering how brain cells function and interact.
However, current monitoring methods fall short, said the study’s first author Evan W. Miller, a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Roger Tsien, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, UC San Diego professor of pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry and 2008 Nobel Prize co-winner in chemistry for his work on green fluorescent protein.
The new method employs dyes that penetrate only the membrane of neurons, either in in vitro cells cultured with the dye or, for this study, taken up by neurons in a living leech model. When the dyed cells are exposed to light, neuronal firing causes the dye momentarily to glow more brightly, a flash that can be captured with a high-speed camera.