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Stunning Details Illuminate Nerve Cell Damage

In most types of neurological injury, cells called astrocytes create scar tissue which forms in part as astrocytes send out tendrils filled with a fibrous protein called GFAP. This response to injury, which is called reactive gliosis, plays a major role in the permanent loss of nerve transmissions through the injured area. Bioengineering professor Gabriel Silva would like to reverse the effects of reactive gliosis, and is visualizing the process in stunning detail with the help of nanometer-sized semiconductor fluorescent quantum dots that bind to GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein). Unlike standard fluorescent dyes that have broad emission spectra, Silva’s quantum dots fluoresce over a much narrower range. “This unique feature of quantum dots has permitted us to resolve these glial filaments in much greater detail, and we’ve realized that there are a lot more of these spidery processes between cells than we ever thought possible,” says Silva. “This finding is enabling us to investigate this new form of intercellular communication.”

Stunning Details Illuminate Nerve Cell Damage