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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Scientists develop worm EEG to test the effects of drugs

Published: 23 May 2013
Scientists develop worm EEG

Professor Lindy Holden-Dye has led a team of Scientists from the University of Southampton in developing a device which records the brain activity of worms to help test the effects of drugs. NeuroChip is a microfluidic electrophysiological device, which can trap the microscopic worm Caenorhadbitis elegans and record the activity of discrete neural circuits in its ‘brain’ - a worm equivalent of the EEG.

C. elegans have been enormously important in providing insight into fundamental signalling processes in the nervous system and this device opens the way for a new analysis. Prior to this development, electrophysiological recordings that resolve the activity of excitatory and inhibitory nerve cells in the nervous system of the worm required a high level of technical expertise – single microscopic (1mm long) worms have to be trapped on the end of a glass tube, a microelectrode, in order to make the recording. The worms are very mobile as well as being small and this can be a challenging procedure.

The microfluidic invention consists of a reservoir through which worms can be fed, one after the other, into a narrow fluid-filled channel. The channel tapers at one end and this captures the worm by the front end. The worm is then in the correct orientation for recording the activity of the nervous system in the anterior of its body. The device incorporates metal electrodes, which are connected to an amplifier to make the recording. The design of the trapping channel has been optimised by PhD student Chunxiao Hu, so that the quality of the worm ’EEG’ recording is sufficient to resolve the activity of components of the neural circuit in the worm’s nervous system.

This device has been used to detect the effects of drugs and is highly suitable for high throughput screens (which allow researchers to quickly conduct millions of chemical, genetic or pharmacological tests) in neurotoxicology and for generic screening for neuroactive drugs. It has more power to resolve discrete effects on excitatory, inhibitory or modulatory transmission than previously possible with behavioural screens.

Lindy Holden-Dye, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southampton and lead author of the paper, says: “We are particularly interested in using this as a sensitive new tool for screening compounds for neurotoxicity. It will allow us to precisely quantify sub-lethal effects on neural network activity. It can also provide an information rich platform by reporting the effects of compounds on a diverse array of neurotransmitter pathways, which are implicated in mammalian toxicology. ”

The research, which is published in the latest issue of the journal PLOS One, is a joint project between the University’s Centre for Biological Sciences and the Hybrid Biodevices Group, two groups housed in the new Life Sciences Building. Peter J.S. Smith, Director of the Institute for Life Sciences said "Such an interdisciplinary study is an excellent example of the University's drive to erode the barriers for research between disciplines".

Professor Lyndy Holden-Dye

We are particularly interested in using this as a sensitive new tool for screening compounds for neurotoxicity. It will allow us to precisely quantify sub-lethal effects on neural network activity. It can also provide an information rich platform by reporting the effects of compounds on a diverse array of neurotransmitter pathways, which are implicated in mammalian toxicology

Professor Lyndy Holden-Dye - Southampton Neurosciences Group (SoNG)

Notes for editors

Notes for editors:

1. The study ‘NeuroChip: A microfluidic electrophysiological device for genetic and chemical biology screening of Caenorhabditis elegans adult and larvae’ by Chunxiao Hu James Dillon, James Kearn, Caitriona Murray, Vincent O’Connor, Lindy Holden-Dye, Hywel Morgan is published in the journal PLOS One. It is available online at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064297

2. An image and video of the NeuroChip is available from Media Relations on request.

3.The Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) represents a university-wide collaboration which acts as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research and training. The Institute’s mission is to facilitate fusions of expertise in education and research from a range of disciplines in order to broaden scientific opportunities and address key issues in health, society and enterprise. The aim is to train scientists and policy makers to address their world from a cross-disciplinary perspective.

Professor Hywel Morgan - http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/people/hm

Hybrid Biodevices Group - https://www.southampton.ac.uk/ifls/research/ifls/hybridbiodevices.page

4. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.

With over 23,000 students, around 5,000 staff, and an annual turnover well in excess of £435 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

The University is also home to a number of world-leading research centres including the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Institute for Life Sciences, the Web Science Trust and Doctoral training Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and is a partner of the National Oceanography Centre at the Southampton waterfront campus.

For more information:
Glenn Harris, Media Relations, University of Southampton,

Tel 023 8059 3212, email g.harris@soton.ac.uk www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/

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