In a new research published in Chemistry: A European Journal, scientists have designed a new dye, JULBD6, which could be used to observe the electrical activity of neurons in the brain and could lead to finding a new and more efficient way of treating neurological diseases.

The study findings presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual conference in Washington, D.C. Neuroscientists at Keele University and chemists at Newcastle University have designed a new near-infrared voltage-sensitive dye (JULBD6) that offers comparable signal quality and toxicity when compared to the commonly used voltage-sensitive dye di-4-ANEPPS.

Neuroscientists most commonly use calcium imaging or voltage-sensitive dyes to observe networks of neurons and their interactions. Voltage-sensitive dyes respond to neuronal events faster than calcium dyes, allowing single neuron spikes to be observed as a change in fluorescence. However, a major limitation of voltage-sensitive dyes is that the observed fluorescent changes are weaker than calcium dyes. Hence, the present research aimed to improve it.

A clearer insight into neuronal networks could improve treatment for neurological diseases. For example, it may help further uncover how neuromodulators, such as dopamine, impact the functionality of neural circuits, which could lead to finding a new and more efficient way of treating people with Parkinson's disease.

Dr John Butcher, Keele University Research Associate said, this could have a large impact on neuroscience as a field. The structure of the new dye is completely different from other dyes such as the widely used di-4-ANEPPS. However, offers the same signal quality in terms of the change in fluorescence during neuronal spiking and does not affect the health of the neurons.

The results are very promising as the researchers have shown a completely new voltage-sensitive dye that allows rational design of key molecular features and offers similar performance to other dyes which are widely used in neuroscience. The dye is also in the near-infrared range, rather than some green dyes which have higher toxicity, making it more suited to longitudinal studies.

Based on the present study findings the team would design dyes based on the structure of JULBD6 in order to improve the fluorescence signal quality whilst making them as less toxic as possible. The new technology could really benefit neuron imaging studies, Professor Peter Andras concluded.