A Selective and Reversible Effect
“We reported in in vitro models that these small flakes interfered with the transmission of the signals from one neuron to another acting at specific zones called synapses which are crucial to the operation of our nervous system,” explained Ballerini and Rauti. “The interesting thing is that their action is selective on specific synapses, namely those formed by neurons that in our brain have the role to excite (activate) their target neurons. We wanted to understand if this holds true not only in in vitro experiments but also inside an organism, with all the variable potential and complexity which derives from it.”
The result was more than positive.
“In our models, we analyzed the activity of the hippocampus, a specific area of the brain, injecting the flakes into that site,” they continued. “What we saw, thanks to fluorescent tracers, is that the particles effectively insinuate themselves only inside the synapses of excitatory neurons. In this way, they interfere with the activity of these cells. In addition, they do so with a reversible effect: after 72 hours, the physiological mechanisms of clearance of the brain completely removed all the flakes.”
Neither Big nor Small: How the Flakes Work
The interest in the procedure, explain the researchers, also lies in the fact that the flakes are apparently well tolerated once injected into the organism: “The inflammatory response and the immune reaction has proved lower than that recorded when administering simple saline solution. This is very important for possible therapeutic purposes.”
The specificity of the action of the flakes, explained the researchers, would reside in the size of the particles used. They cannot be bigger or smaller than those adopted for this study (which measured approx. 100-200 nanometers of diameter): “Size is probably at the root of selectivity: if the flakes are too big they are unable to penetrate the synapse, which are very narrow areas between one neuron and the other. If they are too small, they are presumably simply wiped out ultimately in both cases no effects on synapses were observed.” The research will now explore the potential developments of this discovery, with a possible therapeutic horizon of definite interest for different pathologies.