If you aren’t excited about the prospects of nanotechnology, go get excited. Although its potential applications to neuroscience are less discussed, Mazzatenta et al’s study of single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWNT) last year is still interesting.
The researchers were testing to see whether rat hippocampal cells could adhere and grow axons and dendrites of typical sizes on a SWNT substrate. In order to do so they prepared the SWNT with some cool chemistry, and collected standard dissociated cultures. They then used voltage clamps to determine whether the hippocampal network responded to electrical stimulation as expected.
From what I can tell, the fact that the neurons and SWNT have such close adhesion (as confirmed by scanning electron microscopy) suggests that SWNT and neural tissue might someday “provide the best mechanical coupling between artificial devices and neural tissue.” Since minute changes in the brain can have such a large impact, any devices inserted need to be small or risk serious side effects. That is why the potential future for nanotechnology in the brain could be very large indeed.
Mazzatenta A, Giugliano M, Campidelli S, Gambazzi L, Businaro L, Markram H, Prato M, Ballerini L. 2007 Interfacing neurons with carbon nanotubes: electrical signal transfer and synaptic stimulation in cultured brain circuits. The Journal of Neuroscience 27: 6931-6936. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1051-07.2007.