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Tricky method learned by “seeing” robots for analyzing brain cells in Mammals

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Whole-cell recording (WCR), or whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology, is the gold-standard method for analyzing the behavior of brain cells known as neurons under diverse brain conditions such as learning or stress.

The method has been used since it was originated in the 1970s in mammals. It assists scientists to comprehend the functioning of the brain and brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s. This is done by them by monitoring the individual neurons’ electrical activity in a live mammal brain to fabricate a better image of its function as a complete organ. This data is utilized to comprehend the part of electrical functioning in human brain disorders.

WCR, however, is notoriously challenging to execute owing to the small scale of the tools and the microscopic character of the cells concerned. It also needs extremely accurate movements to locate neurons and then precisely track their electrical currents. Thus, only a small number of labs across the globe specialize in this method.wcr

A team of scientists led by Dr. Luca Annecchino and Professor Simon Schultz at the Imperial College London has designed a robot and computer program that can direct small measuring tools called micropipettes to particular neurons in the live mice brains and record electrical currents, all with no human involvement.

The traditional method for performing WCR consists of scientists tagging a particular neuron with fluorescent dye or protein. This is achieved by directing a robotic arm toward the neuron. The scientists do this by transferring electrical pulses through a pipette packed with the electrically conductive fluid into the brain. The pulses scatter into the brain till the micropipette reaches in proximity to the neuron, which generates an obstruction in an electrical signal that informs the robot or human operator when to discontinue moving the micropipette.

The micropipette, at this point, attaches to the cell’s exterior, piercing the membrane using a suction pressure pulse. Then any electrical signals are conducted from the neuron up via the micropipette and to a computer through the conductive fluid. The new technique developed by Professor Schultz and the team shows how a robot can perform this automatically, with no human contribution.

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The new method was compared with the traditional approach by the team and discovered that the robot was rapid and more precise than its human counterparts. And the automation gives a hope to use this method much more broadly across the globe, and even in laboratories with no expertise in the method.

Further, the team will analyze how brain circuits are concerned by the amyloid plaques observed in Alzheimer’s disease.

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