Researchers have recently developed non-fluorescent optical probes for detecting electrophysiological signals. Will it fulfill the scientists’ anticipation?
FREMONT, CA: Electrode arrays are generally required for monitoring neurons and other excitable cells for research and clinical applications. These are quite restricted in their electrode density, along with the area that they cover. Furthermore, the volume of the signal that the neurological system generates overpowers all attempts at building large scale electronic microelectrode arrays. Another modality is fluorescent probes; however, they come along with some drawbacks and incompatibilities for its use on living humans.
Recently, researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the University of California, Santa Cruz, have come up with non-fluorescent optical probes that don’t need chemical labeling for detecting electrophysiological signals from a considerable number of cells with high bandwidth.
The electronic wiring’s highly restricted bandwidth is a bottleneck that is created by the electrons. Researchers have turned to photons since light provides billion-fold improved multiplexing and information-carrying abilities, which is similar to the reason why the telecommunication industry migrated to fiber optics. The researchers can transmit large-bandwidth neural activity optically by converting bioelectric signals to photons.
The modern probes are less than 100 nanometers in terms of size and also comprise a plasmonic nanoantenna coupled to an electro-chromic polymer whose optical features change within a changing electric field. The probe enables prior detection of the very weak electric field within its area.
The signals generated by these probes are much stronger than those of existing fluorescent probes and generate a much better signal to noise ratio.
Embracing the unmatched multiplexing and information-carrying ability of light in order to dissect the neural circuitry and decrypt electrophysiological signals has been the aim of neuroscientists for around 50 years. The scientists might have finally figured out a way to do that.
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