Scientists at St George’s, University of London have discovered a new reagent that shows real-time brain behavior in more detail than previously possible.
Researchers can now visualize messaging at the synapses - which takes place on a millisecond timescale, using an ultrafast sensor which binds to glutamate.
Nerve cells communicate via synapses, which transfer messages from one neuron to the next via small molecules such as glutamate. Although sensors have earlier been designed to help scientists observe this signaling, it occurs so very fast that even the best sensors have been incapable of accurately monitoring the process thus far.
The sensor, iGluu, will currently be made available to other scientists who may be working on either the central properties of neuronal signaling or on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’ disease. The sensor will help expose what makes glutamate signaling incorrect in these conditions.
This sensor has helped us to answer long-standing questions about the complex molecular mechanisms that occur during neuronal signaling. We can now directly demonstrate that neurotransmitter glutamate is rapidly cleared from the synapse. We now have a sensor to look at synapses in more detail than ever before, this will allow researchers to test theories about how the brain functions.
Katalin Török, Reader in Cell Biology at St George’s, University of London
The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).