Memory and learning are thought to result from changes in synaptic strength. Previous studies on synaptic physiology in brain slices have traditionally been focused on biochemical processes. Here, we demonstrate with experiments on mouse brain slices that central nervous system plasticity is also sensitive to mechanical stretch. This is important, given the host of clinical conditions involving changes in mechanical tension on the brain, and the normal role that mechanical tension plays in brain development. A novel platform is developed to investigate neural responses to mechanical stretching. Flavoprotein autofluoresence (FA) imaging was employed for measuring neural activity. We observed that synaptic excitability substantially increases after a small (2.5%) stretch was held for 10 minutes and released. The increase is accumulative, i.e. multiple stretch cycles further increase the excitability. We also developed analytical tools to quantify the spatial spread and response strength. Results show that the spatial spread is less stable in slices undergoing the stretch-unstretch cycle. FA amplitude and activation rate decrease as excitability increases in stretch cases but not in electrically enhanced cases. These results collectively demonstrate that a small stretch in physiological range can modulate neural activities significantly, suggesting that mechanical events can be employed as a novel tool for the modulation of neural plasticity.
Anthony is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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