Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

28. Seeing Millisecond Nerve Impulses

Watt W. Webb, Applied and Engineering Physics, and graduate student Daniel A. Dombeck made high-resolution images of millisecond nerve impulses in healthy and diseased brains. The first demonstration of the new optical recording technique was in neurons of the sea slug, Aplysia. The researchers combined the bright laser light of multiphoton microscopy (invented by Webb and Winfried Denk) with specially developed dyes and a phenomenon called second-harmonic generation (SHG) to produce the high-resolution, three-dimensional pictures of tissue with minimal damage to living cells. The technique of imaging millisecond-by-millisecond signaling through nerve cells may eventually be used in brain tissue of higher animals and could help decipher the wiring of the brain and possibly explain consequences of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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