Ping! Zip! Pew! Electrical impulses speed along the neurons of the brain at high speed — and now, scientists from Harvard have genetically engineered those very cells to produce light as they do so, in order to visualise how they work.
While it’s been possible to map the electrical impulses in the brain in the past, we’ve only been able to accurately measure voltage at points where tiny electrodes were placed. Now, the entire surface of a neuron cab be made to glow with light when a message is fired along it. Recording the cells in action, at 100,000 frames per second, produces video like the one you see above.
While it’s interesting in its own right, the team is now using the technique to see how electrical impulses travel in healthy cells compared to in those affected by conditions like motor neuron disease. And there’s more: electrical impulses are also essential for the healthy functioning of cardiac tissue, and its hoped that similar imaging techniques will be used to asses the effectiveness of drugs for those with heart conditions. [Safety Pharmacology Society via New Scientist]