Researchers at University of California, Berkeley have developed special sensors that provide a look at the location and concentration of neurotransmitter chemicals, such as dopamine, inside living brain tissue. The new capability should help scientists to study a variety of neurological conditions and the drugs that are used to treat them.
The nano-scale sensors are made of carbon nanotubes coupled with synthetic polymers that fluoresce in the near-infrared light range when in the presence of molecules being looked for. The researchers focused on dopamine and the drug Merital (memantine hydrochloride) that affects it, and were able to have their nanosensors glow brighter when dopamine was at greater concentration while seeing how Merital changes the signal.
A special microscope had to be built to detect the faint light signal, but once the signal was detectable it became easy to map the location of the dopamine. Perhaps one day the technology will somehow be made less invasive, as direct access to the brain is still necessary to see the light signal.
The Berkeley researchers presented their findings at the AVS 64th International Symposium & Exhibition in Tampa, Florida last week.