Located at the base of the brain and no larger than a pea, in mammals the pituitary gland (or hypophysis) is the most important endocrine gland of ectodermal origin. It directly links to hypothalamus, forming the most significant area of interconnection between the nervous system and the endocrine system. Here impulses and hormonal cues originate and control the entire endocrine processes. Within the anterior lobe of the pituitary, five distinct types of secretory cells are intricately organized, forming large-scale networks that communicate through various means. These networks play a crucial role in regulating essential human functions like growth, reproduction, and responses to emotional and physical stress. However, deciphering the intricate electrical communication occurring among these cells has proven to be a formidable challenge, primarily due to the lack of ultra-sensitive sensors capable of detecting the weak electrical signals involved in long-range interactions within and between these networks.
A team of researchers from the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), from the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (Francesco Maita, Luca Maiolo, Ivano Lucarini, Ignacio Del Rio De Vicente, Antonio Sciortino, Valentina Mussi, and Annalisa Convertino) and the Institute of Translational Pharmacology (Mario Ledda and Antonella Lisi) have achieved a significant breakthrough by successfully capturing, for the first time, electrical signals produced by a network of pituitary corticotropic cells. The remarkable achievement has been possible through the development of a cutting-edge, custom-designed microelectrode array (MEA) based on silicon nanowires, integrated into a customized low-noise data acquisition electronic board. The extraordinary capability of silicon nanowires to naturally penetrate cellular membranes enabled the electrophysiological recording of the electrical events within these cells. The findings of this groundbreaking research have recently been published in the journal Advanced Science. This pioneering work not only provides a powerful tool for exploring the intricate mechanisms governing the pituitary gland but also paves the way for exciting new research opportunities within the field of neuroscience.
This research received significant support from the ICARUS project (FA9550-21-1-0424), which is funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), specifically as part of the Biophysics Program. The project is coordinated by Annalisa Convertino and aligns closely with the initiatives of the Working Group on "Advanced Materials, Nanomaterials, and Biophysics" within the framework of the Italy-USA Cooperation on Science and Technology, leaded by Luigi Ambrosio (CNR) and Sofi Bin-Salamon (AFOSR).
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