Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 3 – 2006

Nicholas Melosh, Materials Science & Engineering
Ricardo Dolmetsch, Neurobiology

Networks of neurons, the cells responsible for communicating within the brain and activating muscle function, can store information, such as a memory. How this occurs is at the cutting edge of electrophysiological research and is not well understood. In particular, neurons can be stimulated by a number of different chemical species, but how a neuron interprets and assimilates several of these signals at once is unclear. While current studies use patch-clamps or electrical current to stimulate the neurons, neither of these techniques recreate the actual chemical stimulation process, nor are they able to use multiple agents at one time. This project will develop a nanochip that is able to store small quantities of different neural stimulation molecules (neurotransmitters) that can be released using computer control. By adapting this nanochip for neural studies, the reaction of neural networks to chemical release with nanometer spatial resolution and millisecond time resolution can be studied. The development of nano-reservoir arrays coupled to optical detection of neuronal function will significantly improve our understanding of neural network behavior by providing a carefully controlled platform on which to study the effect of spatial and temporal neurotransmitter delivery to neurons.