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Study reveals turn 'signals' for neuron growth
Date:12/20/2011

Irvine, Calif., and Arlington, Texas -- Researchers at UC Irvine and The University of Texas at Arlington have discovered how spinning microparticles can direct the growth of nerve fiber, a discovery that could allow for directed growth of neuronal networks on a chip and improve methods for treating spinal or brain injuries.

Michael Berns, the founding director of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic at UCI, and Samarendra Mohanty, an assistant professor of physics at UT Arlington, are coauthor of the paper, which is now available online and will appear in the January issue of Nature Photonics

The study is based on Mohanty's hypothesis that neurons can respond to physical (e.g. fluid flow) cues in addition to chemical cues. He conducted the seminal work and observed that a laser-driven spinning calcite microparticle could guide the direction of neuron growth. Its rotation caused a shearing effect by creating a microfluidic flow.

Mohanty's work led Berns' UCI team to test the vaterite "micro-motors" in guiding neurons.

Mohanty said: "This is the first report to demonstrate that neurons can be turned in a controlled manner by microfluidic flow. With this method, we can direct them to turn right or turn left and we can quickly insert or remove the rotating beads as needed. But flow can be generated by any means. In the body, for example, it will be more convenient to use a tube carrying fluids."

The researchers in the UCI experiments used a laser tweezers system to trap a birefringent particle (calcite or vaterite) near axonal growth cones, which are the tips of neurons where connections are made with other neurons or cells. The same laser causes rotation of the particle, which creates the flow, Mohanty said.

The paper reports that the new method successfully turned the growing axon in a new direction up to 42 percent of the time in lab experiments. The authors noted that the method could al
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Contact: Tom Vasich
tmvasich@uci.edu
949-824-6455
University of California - Irvine
Source:Eurekalert

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