Optical tracking of nerve activity using intrinsic changes in birefringence
Badreddine, Ali Hussein
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Changes in birefringence (or dynamic birefringence) provide an arguably cleaner method of measuring IOS as compared to scattering methods. Other imaging methods have substantial limitations. Nerves inherently exhibit a static (rest condition) birefringence that is associated with the structural anisotropies of axonal protein filaments, membrane phospholipids and proteins, as well as surrounding tissues, which include Schwann cells and axon sheaths. The dynamic birefringence, or “crossed-polarized signal” (XPS), in neurons arises from activity in axons and occurs with a rapid momentary change, typically a decrease, in the birefringence when action potentials (APs) propagate along them. We improved the signal-to-noise to make detecting this signal an easier task, and present the XPS as a viable candidate for detecting AP activity in anisotropic nervous tissue. Our data collectively serves as a strong indication that there is a capacitive-charging-like effect directly inducing a gradual recovery (long tail) of the XPS to baseline, and also causing a smoothing of the XPS trace. A setup was constructed that successfully demonstrated the feasibility of tracking propagating compound APs in a peripheral nerve using the XPS. We made significant progress in the attempt to investigate birefringence of myelination. For the first time, the XPS in a myelinated tissue was detected, and it appears to be bipolar in nature. Further work in investigating the nature of this signal is needed, and is currently underway. Since changes in birefringence in neurons are associated instantaneously with electrophysiological phenomena, they are well-suited for fast imaging of propagating action potentials in neuronal tissue. In summary, imaging based on polarization sensing of changes in birefringence offers promise for an improved noninvasive method of detecting and tracking AP activity in myelinated and unmyelinated nerves and could be designed for pre-clinical and surgical applications.
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