• The AFM is a leading tool for imaging, measuring, and manipulating materials with atomic resolution — on the order of fractions of a nanometer — by scanning (“touching” and “feeling”) its surface with an extremely fine needle (the diameter of the tip is about 5 nanometers) on the surface. Previously it couldn’t have been used with neurons and other living cells without damaging the sample, and it’s too slow.
  • The new device images without any sign of cellular damage, it’s optimized for fast scanning (seconds per image) to capture dynamic events in living cells, and has a spatial resolution up to 100 times better than a standard light microscope. In particular, this study demonstrates the capability to track structural dynamics and remodeling of the cell surface.
  • Researchers hope to visualize the morphology of synapses at nanometer resolution and in real time in the near future. Since morphology changes of synapses underlie synaptic plasticity and our learning and memory, this will provide us with many new insights into mechanisms of how neurons store information in their morphology, how it changes synaptic strength, and ultimately how it creates new memory.

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