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New Material Can Sense Glutamate in the Brain

October 14, 2020

Scientists from 3 diverse disciplines at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, have developed a new material that can sense the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain. They reported on their discovery in the American Chemical Society’s magazine Applied Materials and Interfaces.

A series of tests showed that the material—a perovskite nickelate coated with a Nafion layer— can be used to track glutamate with more sensitivity and faster response time than previous glutamate-sensing materials.

Researchers successfully tested the glutamate-sensing properties of novel perovskite nickelate–Nafion electrodes ex vivo in electrically stimulated brain slices as well as in live mice. In the in vivo experiment, researchers implanted the material into the visual cortex of mice under anesthesia. When they awoke, scientists were able to track their responses to visual stimuli.

“These results demonstrate the potential of perovskite nickelates as sensing media for brain–machine interfaces,” researchers concluded.

Podcast: Dr. Rakesh Jain Gives an Update on Glutamate

Hyowon Lee, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, Shriram Ramanathan, PhD, professor of materials engineering, and Alexander Chubykin, PhD, assistant professor of biological sciences, were connected through a university initiative to bring scientists working on disparate ideas together. Drs. Lee and Chubykin were seeking new ways to sense neurotransmitters in the brain and learned Dr. Ramanathan had been working on just such a material for years.

“That’s the beauty of this effort,” Dr. Lee said. “I had no idea about the existence of this type of material. This has given us all new tools for collaboration and allowed us to create better tools for studying the mechanism of neurological disorders.”

The next step, according to Dr. Ramanathan, is to create smaller microneedles to track glutamate in specific sections of the brain using more specific stimuli.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Sun Y, Nguyen TNH, Anderson A, et al. In Vivo glutamate sensing inside the mouse brain with perovskite nickelate-Nafion heterostructures. Applied Materials and Interfaces. 2020;12(22):24564-24574.

New material senses neurotransmitters in the brain [press release]. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University; October 1, 2020.

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