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See Inside January 2008

Neurological Insights

Biologists devise a memory on a chip and new ways to tackle Alzheimer's

How does a memory form? To demonstrate how this process occurs at the most basic level, biophysicists at Tel Aviv University replicated that event with neurons attached to a computer chip. Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob placed neurons from rat embryos on a chip surface and connected 64 electrodes to record activity. The researchers witnessed an identical pattern of nerve firings when chemical stimulants were dropped repeatedly at the same location on the chip. After some time, the neurons began to fire in the same way without chemical activation—the point at which they claim a memory becomes imprinted.

Understanding differences between the proteins made by normal and diseased brain tissues may provide a new approach to diagnostics. Richard D. Smith of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Desmond J. Smith of the University of California, Los Angeles, have created a complex system for analyzing proteins that combines advanced instrumentation with sophisticated image processing to inspect one-millimeter cubes of brain tissue from a pair of normal mice. The investigators determined the abundance of 1,028 proteins in the tissues. Future experiments will use this methodology to compare normal brain tissue with that afflicted by a neurodegenerative disease.

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