Direct investigation of current transport in cells by conductive atomic force microscopy

W. Zhao, L. Z. Cheong, S. Xu, W. Cui, S. Song, C. J. Rourk, C. Shen

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Currents play critical roles in neurons. Direct observation of current flows in cells at nanometre dimensions and picoampere current resolution is still a daunting task. In this study, we investigated the current flows in hippocampal neurons, PC12 cells and astrocytes in response to voltages applied to the cell membranes using conductive atomic force microscopy (CAFM). The spines in the hippocampal neurons play crucial roles in nerve signal transfer. When the applied voltage was greater than 7.2 V, PC12 cells even show metallic nanowire-like characteristics. Both the cell body and glial filaments of astrocytes yielded CAFM test results that reflect different electrical conductance. To our best knowledge, the electrical characteristics and current transport through components of cells (especially neurons) in response to an applied external voltage have been revealed for the first time at nanometre dimensions and picoampere current levels. We believe that such studies will pave new ways to study and model the electrical characteristics and physiological behaviours in cells and other biological samples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-57
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Microscopy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Astrocytes
  • conductive atomic force microscopy
  • current transport
  • hippocampal neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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