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Brain mapping gets a boost from new optical nanosensor

"This is a technological breakthrough that promises to shed new light -- both literally and figuratively -- on understanding brain homeostasis," said George Augustine, associate editor of the journal Neurophotonics.

By Brooks Hays
Brain mapping gets a boost from new optical nanosensor
Scientists can now track the movement of ionized potassium into previously inaccessible extracellular space in the brain, which they say will lead to better mapping of the brain. Photo by SPIE

March 2 (UPI) -- A new optical nanosensor is helping scientists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland more accurately map the brain. The nanosensor more accurately tracks ionized potassium, a byproduct of neural activity.

When neurons are activated, they release ionized potassium into the space between the cells. The potassium must be diffused and reabsorbed. Scientists measure potassium levels as a proxy for brain activity.

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Brain mapping technologies use potassium-sensitive microelectrodes to track neural activity, but the microelectrodes only offer a single-point measurement and struggle to trace movement.

The new fluorescence imaging-based nanosensor allows scientists to track subtle movements of ionized potassium and explore new extracellular spaces within the brain.

Researchers described the breakthrough in the journal Neurophotonics.

"This is a technological breakthrough that promises to shed new light -- both literally and figuratively -- on understanding brain homeostasis," George Augustine, Neurophotonics associate editor and professor of neuroscience at Duke University, said of the new research. "It not only is much less invasive than previous methods, but it adds a crucial spatial dimension to studies of the role of potassium ions in brain function."

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