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Science 311 (5767): 1570-1574

Copyright © 2006 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Probing Cellular Chemistry in Biological Systems with Microelectrodes

R. Mark Wightman

Abstract: Over the past 20 years, the technological impediments to fabricating electrodes of micrometer dimensions have been largely overcome. These small electrodes can be readily applied to probe chemical events at the surface of tissues or individual biological cells; they can even be used to monitor concentration changes within intact animals. These measurements can be made on rapid time scales and with minimal perturbation of the system under study. Several recent applications have provided important insights into chemical processes at cells and in tissues. Examples include molecular flux measurements at the surface of single cells and through skin—which can offer insights into oxidative stress, exocytosis, and drug delivery—and real-time brain neurotransmitter monitoring in living rats, which reveals correlations between behavior and molecular events in the brain. Such findings can promote interdisciplinary collaborations and may lead to a broader understanding of the chemical aspects of biology.

Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.

E-mail: rmw{at}

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