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Researchers at UCLA and Columbia University have developed a novel method for tracking the activity of small molecules in the brain, including the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Pairing tiny artificial receptors with semiconductor devices that are able to function in living tissue, the team was able to observe brain chemicals at a high level of detail.
The research, published in the journal Science, is part of the BRAIN Initiative, a large-scale collaboration among government, private industry, nonprofits, and numerous colleges and universities.
Fundamentals - Occurs - Brains - Disorders - Andrews
"Understanding the fundamentals of how neurotransmission occurs will help us understand not only how our brains work, but what's going on in psychiatric disorders," said Andrews. "In order to move forward with dramatically better treatments, we need to understand how we encode information about anxiety or mood—processes that can go awry, sometimes with devastating consequences."
"The idea for this project began 20 years ago," said lead researcher Anne M. Andrews, professor of psychiatry and chemistry at UCLA. "It was born out of a critical need in my own research on serotonin. My group was using state of the art in vivo monitoring—but it became apparent to me that improving the methods in hand wasn't going to be enough to provide the necessary resolution. We needed a totally new sensing strategy." This led to collaboration with Paul Weiss, professor of chemistry and materials science at UCLA.
Andrews - Receptors - Signaling - Platform - Hurdle
Andrews envisioned coupling artificial receptors with a nanoscale signaling platform. A major hurdle, however, was that the required transistors, which are basic units of computers and cell phones, and are needed to process a signal, don't work well in wet, salty environments.
"The workhorse of any transistor is the semiconductor," Andrews said. "But when you put it in salt water, the salt ions—charged atoms—line up on the semiconductor surface, and shield it, preventing detection of electric field changes....
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