(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers have developed a new technology to stimulate brain cells, in which their activity is regulated by microscopic magnetic particles. The discovery will form the basis of new non-invasive treatments for neurological disorders.
Scientists from University College London (UK) have developed a new technology called magnetomechanical stimulation.
They used microscopic magnetic particles to remotely control brain cells with a magnet placed outside the body. Such stimulation allows you to activate astrocytes – cells of neuroglia, an auxiliary tissue of the brain.
Astrocytes perform many functions in the brain. Among other things, they provide neurons with mechanical support, regulate the exchange of nutrients between brain cells, modulate the activity of neural circuits, form the blood-brain barrier, and sometimes, in case of injury, they can even turn into neurons.
The ability to control astrocytes using a magnetic field gives researchers a new tool to study the functions of these cells in both healthy and diseased organisms. This is important for the development of new treatments for various neurological disorders, including stroke and epilepsy.
The scientists coated the surface of microscopic magnetic particles with antibodies that specifically bind to astrocytes.
In the experiments, the researchers injected the particles into the desired area of the rat brain via injection. When exposed to a magnet located near the animal’s head, particles attached to astrocytes exerted a mechanical effect on them, which led to their activation.
Unlike other methods of controlling neuron activity, such as optogenetics, chemogenetics, or acoustogenetics, magnetomechanical stimulation does not require the introduction of specific protein genes into neurons. This need for genetic modification has been a major obstacle to the clinical application of such methods.
Another clear advantage of magnetomechanical stimulation is that the magnets glow during an MRI scan, so their location in the body can be tracked and controlled, directing them to the areas of the brain where it is necessary to make an impact.
This makes the new technology a promising alternative to the invasive procedures currently used for deep brain stimulation that require electrons to be injected into the brain.
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