First-of-its-kind nanosensor could help diagnosis and treatment of neurological disease

Every movement in the human body—from lifting our arms to our beating hearts—is regulated in some way by signals from our brains. Until recently, scientists often tracked and understood that brain-body communication only after the fact, sort of like listening to a voicemail as opposed to being on a call.

But researchers at Northeastern have developed a new type of nanosensor that allows scientists to image communication between the brain and the body in real time. They now can listen in on the call.

Heather Clark, professor of bioengineering and chemistry at Northeastern, and James Monaghan, associate professor of biology, along with colleagues at Northeastern and researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, developed a DNA-based nanosensor that detects a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, as it’s released and picked up by target cells in living animals. They published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month.

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