Neurobiology increasingly endeavours combining material science, nanotechnology and cell biology to engineer new nano-constructs able to interface with neurons promoting, in such way, novel functionalities in the resulting cellular network. Carbon nanomaterials (CNMs – e.g. single layer graphene, graphene flakes, CNTs, etc.), due to their physicochemical properties, play a key role in this contest. With proven in-vitro and in-vivo cellular biocompatibility  and the ease of immobilisation on virtually every surface, CNMs possess the ability to interact intimately with neuronal membranes leading to the emergence of a hybrid organic/inorganic interface between them and cells ultimately responsible of boosting neuronal activity .
This powerful interaction, although not entirely understood in its fundamental mechanisms, is presumably facilitated by the good matching of CNBs dimensionality with cell membrane or cytoskeletal constituents (e.g. actin and tubulin filaments) size. The most surprising point is the ability of this local interaction to be translated into cues driving the entire synaptic network activity .
Here we exploit the ability of CNMs, in form of nanocues immobilised on supporting surfaces or as submicrometrical moieties dispersed in the cell culturing medium, to modulate the synaptic activity of a neuronal network. Neuronal cells (and the resulting network) treated with such CNMs were characterised in morphology via electron microscopy (EM) and histochemistry, while network functionality was described in terms of its electrical activity via patch-clamp recordings and calcium imaging analysis. By a parallel approach, we started investigating at the nanoscale cell-membrane interactions with these artificial materials, to address the core mechanisms instructing cell behaviour.
These experiments demonstrate the possibility to establish new modulation paradigms of neuronal activity resulting in novel cellular functionalities. In particular, this new knowledge on nanomaterials and neurons may be used to engineer novel devices towards unconventional neuro-medicine applications.
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