Neurons are continuously exposed to signals generated by the extracellular environment and the senses to drive key biological tasks. This ability has been exploited to engineer interfaces with nanostructures to guide nerve tissue re-growth, using carbon nanotube-based biomaterials to develop novel neuroprosthetic interfaces. Enhancing cell-to-cell communication is crucial in neural circuits’ settings, however, interactions between carbon nanotube prosthetics and the cellular surfaces are largely unexplored. Now, a study led by researchers from SISSA shows unprecedented functional integration between carbon nanotube prosthesis and the physiological maturation of the synaptic circuits in cultured hippocampal neurons. The team states carbon nanotubes exhibit ideal biological and physiological compatibility rendering them suitable to re-establish connections between nerve cells damaged due to lesions or trauma. The opensource study is published in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine.
Previous studies show neuronal membranes in response to nanomaterials recover even when transiently pierced or deformed by nano-needles or other intracellular nano-delivery systems. Significant changes in the structure of individual lipid molecules were observed when carbon nanotubes were adsorbed on cell membranes and subsequently pierced the lipid bilayer. However, there are no reports on the effects of carbon nanotubes interfaces on neuronal membrane equilibrium and synaptic transmission. The current study investigates whether carbon nanotube prosthesis, once interfaced with neurons, affects synaptic transmission by modulating lipid membrane structure and dynamics.
The current study utilizes single-cell electrophysiology and immunofluorescence microscopy to monitor the dynamics of synaptic transmission in cultured hippocampal neurons interfaced with carbon nanotube prosthesis. Results show the nanotube prosthesis does not interfere with the composition of lipids, including cholesterol, contained within the cellular membrane of neurons. The lab explains membrane lipids play an important role in the transmission of signals through the synapses, and that carbon nanotube prosthetics do not impede this process.
Data findings show carbon nanotubes perform excellently in terms of duration, adaptability and mechanical compatibility with the tissue. The group states their study also highlights the fact nerve cells growing on the substratum of nanotubes develop and reach maturity very quickly, eventually reaching a condition of biological homeostasis. They go on to add carbon nanotube prosthetics facilitate the full growth of neurons and the formation of new synapses, and after a few weeks, a stable and efficient physiological balance is attained.
The team surmises their data shows carbon nanotube prosthesis interfaced with neurons can dynamically regulate synapse formation and function. For the future, the researchers state they are now performing studies in vivo to repair neuronal circuitry.
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