November 2005, Issue 5

The Electrophysiology & Biophysics Core Facility

The Electrophysiology & Biophysics Core Facility (EBCF), directed by Kathleen Dunlap, PhD, provides researchers with equipment and expertise to monitor the nervous system’s “electricity” — i.e., the very rapid flow of charged ions across cell membranes. This flow generates changes in membrane potential that allow neurons to communicate with their targets, such as muscle or other neurons. Monitoring current and voltage provides investigators with functional information, specifically about the proteins (called ion channels) that underlie these phenomena and generally about how information flows through the nervous system.

One of a very few such facilities in the country, the EBCF is part of the Center for Neuroscience Research. Core personnel consult with researchers to assess the appropriateness of electrophysiological methods for particular projects. EBCF personnel carry out preliminary experiments, assist researchers in establishing electrophysiological approaches in their own laboratories, and provide basic electrophysiology training to laboratory personnel. Often investigators are drawn to electrophysiology by a particular turn in their research, such as the discovery that a specific gene or protein acts on ion channels or neuronal structures.

“Electrophysiology is the best approach we have right now to assay how a protein is functioning,” says Dunlap. “But it is not like doing a Western blot. There are almost no projects that can be done in just a day or two.” Dunlap emphasizes that, although electrophysiology requires considerable training and equipment, the precise, quantitative data it yields is well worth the time and money. “We provide a platform for assaying the function of channel proteins downstream of gene manipulations,” says Core Manager Chuang Du.

“Current clamp recording is a method that allows you to actually measure voltage change in a cell over time,” says Dunlap. “You can measure action potentials, or bursts of action potentials, in a cell as it’s firing. Electrophysiology is so sensitive and such a fast method of recording that we can, under certain recording conditions, assay the movement (the conformational change) of a single molecule at submillisecond resolution. This is an exquisitely sensitive technique. We get instantaneous feedback about the state of a single molecule or a thousand molecules in a whole cell, and how in any instant in time that population is changing.”

Initial consultations are free and are available by appointment. Please contact Core Manager Chuang Du, PhD, at 617-636-4938. Additional services are provided on a fee-for-service basis and currently include whole-cell current and voltage clamp recording, single-channel recording, two-electrode voltage clamp recording, and tissue slice field recording. The EBCF is establishing an experimental setup to allow intracellular voltage and current clamp recording from single cells in slices. This setup should be functional by late 2005.

The EBCF is located on the 11th floor of the Tupper Building at 15 Kneeland Street in Boston and is open to Tufts and Tufts–New England Medical Center (Tufts–NEMC) researchers. Investigators not affiliated with Tufts will be accommodated if time is available. One of four research cores within the Center for Neuroscience Research, the EBCF is supported by Tufts University, Tufts–NEMC, and by a center core grant from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

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Tufts University, Office of the Vice Provost
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