Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Silver Lining
02 February 2016

Silver Lining

Like frost forming on a window, feathery dendrites fanning out from an insect nerve cell, or neuron, are pictured using a new imaging technique. These branching structures collect information for processing by the cell and are vital to the nervous system – but at about 100th the width of a human hair, they can be difficult to study. As long ago as the 1880s, nerve cell samples have been chemically stained with silver to create a reflective surface that enhances microscope images. Now, scientists have updated this method by impregnating dendrites with silver or gold nanoparticles that produce surface vibrations, or plasmons, which can be visualised with a laser scanning confocal microscope. Using this method, the aim is to study human nerve networks in 3D more precisely than ever before. Identifying small changes in these lacy labyrinths of nerve tissue can be important in diagnosing neurological diseases and studying brain development.

Written by Mick Warwicker

  • Image by Grant M. Barthel, Karen A. Mesce and Karen J. Thompson
  • Agnes Scott College, Georgia and the University of Minnesota, USA
  • Image copyright held by original authors
  • Research published in eLife, December 2015

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