Carbon nanotubes used to send electrical signals to neurons

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston have for the first time used carbon nanotubes to carry electrical signals and transmit them to neurons in culture.

Ten-layer-thick 'carpets' of single-walled carbon nanotubes were first deposited onto a transparent plastic surface. The nanotubes were used as a substrate on which two different kinds of neurons were placed, and to which the cells adhered. Microelectrodes were then used to measure the responses of individual cells to electrical signals transmitted through the nanotube carpet.

"As far as I know, we're the first group to show that you can have some kind of electrical communication between these two things, by stimulating cells through our transparent conductive layer," says Todd Pappas, director of UTMB's Centre for Biomedical Engineering and a senior author of the Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology paper in which the findings are published.

Pappas and his team found that neurons adhered better to native nanotubes than to ones with other molecules attached to their surfaces.

"Next we want to find a way to functionalize the nanotubes to make neuron attachment and communication better and make these surfaces more biocompatible."

Increased biocompatability of the nanotube carpets could make them useful as an interface between human tissue and neuroprostheses.