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Development of a photothermal neurostimulation platform technology using gold nanoparticles

Neurons are activated as they exchange information, and this is an important part of the understanding of brain function. In order to overcome the limitations of previously developed technologies in neural engineering, the research team of Professor Yoonkey Nam, a neural interface researcher, and Professor Ji-Ho Park, a bionanomaterials researcher, chose to use gold nanorods. Their photothermal stimulation chip platform, which can control neuron activity, is expected to be applicable not only to hippocampal neurons, but to all neurons in general.

A New Era of Brain Research

Recent advances in neuromodulation technologies enable the control of neural activity (action potential) at the single cell level using light-sensitive cell membrane ion channels or pumps. However, one major obstacle to the use of this optogenetic technology in clinical treatment is difficulties in genetic modification. In order to control the electrical activity of neurons with light without genetic modification, the research team of professors Nam and Park used gold nanoparticles, which interact with light to generate localized heat. Using a method of cell activity control whereby gold nanoparticles attached to the surface of neurons absorb near-infrared light to generate localized heat around the cell membranes, they analyzed the impact of photothermal effects on neurons at the single-cell level and demonstrated that the results can be used to analyze networks.

Using the plasmonic photothermal effect to control single-cell electrical activity and analyze networks

The study found that when plasmonically induced photothermal stimulation of gold nanoparticles is applied to single neurons, a low-level laser can be used to clearly inhibit the electrical activity of neurons in a localized manner. The plasmonic photothermal effect was able to quickly and very reliably inhibit the electrical activity of single neurons without damaging them. These findings are expected to be a useful tool for analyzing brain function by inducing changes in neural circuit patterns and potentially examining the modulation and functional connectivity of in vivo circuits. This study was funded by the Mid-Career Researcher Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea.

Prof. Yoonkey Nam, Prof. Ji-Ho Park
2018 KI Annual Report

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