Rodrigo Bammann - Not All Brain Cells Are Equal! Different Methods Can Produce Different Results

What makes you happy? In this article Rodrigo Bammann of the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology describes his research exploring how chemicals in the brain can change your mood. His main method is electrophysiology in brain slices and neuronal cultures. He uses whole-cell patch clamp technique in cortical neurons.

About My Research

Neuron and its Electrical ActivityMy research involves application of two chemical signalling molecules: Serotonin, the "happy hormone”, which can change the electrical properties of brain cells (neurons); and nitric oxide, a gas best known for its ability to relax the smooth muscles in blood vessels that help to control blood pressure; sildenafil, the active component in Viagra, affects the actions of nitric oxide thus regulating blood flow. These two chemical molecules are known to affect mood and behaviour. Previous studies show that nitric oxide can alter the effects of serotonin on specific cells.

Instead of working with live animals or complex tissue taken directly from an animal, we studied the behaviour of single neurons from rats that were dissociated from the brain and studied in cell cultures. Cultured cells are frequently used as a model system to study effects of drugs, neurotoxic effects of substances and other aspects of neuronal function. They are environments in which cells can grow healthily, allowing researchers to do experiments in a controlled environment.

Research Findings

The ultimate aim of neuroscience is to link behaviour to neuron activity and how they communicate with one another. The results that make the headlines are the ones that are interesting and fit the expectations, while the results that don't fit frequently go unreported.

At the Festival of Postgraduate Research I illustrate how even established techniques can produce unexpected results.

Our results show that it is not easy to directly compare cultured cells to ones that have developed as a more complex and diverse network in a brain. Neurons in cultures develop similar characteristics to the ones in the brain but some of the fundamental properties are quite different!

Illustration of Research FindingsFor instance, many of the expected effects of serotonin could not be reproduced in cell culture. This clearly illustrates that it  is important to thoroughly evaluate whether a technique is appropriate to address a specific question, and so this part of my study will hopefully prompt other researchers to consider whether a specific technique is appropriate to their studies.

As for the biological results, the effects of serotonin on the cultured neurons differ to any previously described, and many of the previously described effects could not be reproduced in cell culture. Nitric oxide on the other hand shows an effect on cultured neurons, but it appears that this effect is mediated in a different way to previously described effects in complex brain tissue.

About Rodrigo Bammann

Rodrigo Bammann is a research student working towards completion of his doctoral degree in the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology

Rodrigo is supervised by Dr Volko Straub and Professor Nick Hartell.

Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology
University of Leicester
Maurice Shock Medical Sciences Building
Leicester
LE1 9HN

Rodrigo will present his work at the Festival of Postgraduate Research 27 June 2013 - see Rodrigo's Festival poster.

The Festival is open to all members of the University community and the public - book your place here.

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