In a recent experiment published in the journal ACS Nano, researchers developed gold nanoparticles in the laboratory to reduce the death of neuron cells that were over-excited. The study is the result of international collaboration coordinated by Roberto Fiammengo, a research fellow at the Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnology, IIT (Italian Institute of Technology). Scientists from the UK and Germany also participated in the international research.

Excessive stimulation of neurons by the glutamate of the neurotransmitter, which is usually involved in the excitatory connection between neurons, can damage nerve cells and cause their degeneration. This phenomenon, known by the terms excitotoxicity and toxicity, is often found in many neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s chorea, as well as in the case of epilepsy, brain injury, and stroke.

These nanoparticles were designed and manufactured by the IIT team and functionalized with peptides that selectively inhibit the extrasynaptic glutamate receptors involved in excitotoxicity.

The size of the new nanoparticles leads to the fact that only receptors located outside the synapses are blocked. Thus, the correct neurotransmission is preserved, and excessive activation is avoided, it just leads to cell death.

The molecular mechanism underlying the neuroprotective action of nanoparticles was explained in the course of experimental work by scientists from Italy.

The results of this study lay the foundation for the treatment of neurological diseases in which the pathology is based on the excessive release of glutamate. The possibility of specific blocking of extrasynaptic receptors, mainly responsible for cell death, without interfering with the synaptic transmission itself opens up promising prospects for targeted therapy without serious side effects.

Scientists also said that they developed nanoparticles with unique and necessary properties to meet the needs of neuroscientists and physiologists.

Even if currently developed nanoparticles cannot be used in therapy, this study shows how nanotechnology can provide important indications for the treatment of many neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases.

Pierluigi Valente, University of Genoa