Watching a nerve cell squirm after an electric shock may sound cruel and unusual, but it actually reveals a lot about our own response to pain. This nerve-like cell, from a rat, is sitting on nanoribbons – microscopically thin pieces of metal (less than a tenth of a human hair in width) suspended like tightropes over a chasm. A small electrical charge is applied to the cell and sensitive computer equipment used to spot wobbles in the ribbons as the cell tenses. Measuring these minute twitches gives a glimpse into the mechanics of the neurons [nerve cells] in our nervous system. Temporary changes in shape or deflections may be essential for our neurons to convey their own electrical messages – possibly from a cut finger or a stubbed toe – to the brain in a fraction of a second.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.