Researchers at Yale University have developed a new, non-invasive method to examine synapses – the points of communication between neurons. The work is published in the leading journal Science Translational Medicine.In the future, this novel technique could improve the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, and of other neurological conditions.In a press release, Dr Richard Carson, Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging and Senior Author of the study, said: “This is the first time we have synaptic density measurement in live human beings. Up to now any measurement of synaptic density was post-mortem (after death).”The researchers developed a radioactive tracer that binds to a protein called SV2A, found at synapses. They injected the tracer into the body and, using a type of imaging called positron emission tomography (PET), were able to visualise synapses in the brain of animals, healthy people and people with epilepsy. They then used mathematical tools to calculate synaptic density, the number of functional synapses per volume of brain tissue, to assess how much and how well the subjects’ neurons were communicating. They discovered that in the brains of people with temporal epilepsy, synaptic density measurements reflected damage to certain regions.The scientists hope that this method can eventually be used routinely, to monitor the course of various neurological conditions, including epilepsy, and assess how well certain drugs are working. Its non-invasive nature will help make assessment a more comfortable and less daunting experience for patients, which is so important.There are trillions of synapses in the brain, which transmit signals from one neuron to another. Changes in the density of synapses are associated with a number of neurological disorders, including epilepsy.Author: Dr Özge ÖzkayaClick here for more articles about brain science including genetics.