Prof. Dave Attwell
University College London
The Attwell lab is interested in understanding the interactions that occur between neurons, glial cells and the vasculature of the brain through the use of electrophysiology and imaging techniques.
For years it was believed that brain blood flow, which provides the energy used for neural computation, was controlled solely by constriction and dilation of arterioles in the brain. However, the Attwell lab have since shown that contractile cells called pericytes, located at 30-micron intervals along brain capillaries, also play a major role (Hall et al., 2014, Nature 508, 55; Mishra et al. 2016, Nature Neuroscience 19, 1619).
Capillaries are extremely small (around 4-5 microns in diameter) and therefore red and white blood cells need to change shape in order to pass through them. It is these changes in shape that the Attwell group are interested in imaging.
The problem with imaging such changes of red and white blood cell shape is that the cells themselves move very quickly (~1mm/sec). They are also only 5 microns across, so they pass any given point in only a few milliseconds. They also change shape very quickly. Consequently, to capture images of the changes of shape, a rapid and high sensitivity imaging camera is needed.
The camera has allowed us to acquire images that would otherwise be impossible to obtain, providing a basis for future analysis of how the properties of capillaries, and of red and white blood cells, determine brain blood flow.