Synapses without tension fail to fire in an in vitro network of hippocampal neurons

Md Saddam Hossain Joy, Duncan L. Nall, Bashar Emon, Ki Yun Lee, Alexandra Barishman, Movviz Ahmed, Saeedur Rahman, Paul R. Selvin, M. Taher A. Saif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neurons in the brain communicate with each other at their synapses. It has long been understood that this communication occurs through biochemical processes. Here, we reveal that mechanical tension in neurons is essential for communication. Using in vitro rat hippocampal neurons, we find that 1) neurons become tout/tensed after forming synapses resulting in a contractile neural network, and 2) without this contractility, neurons fail to fire. To measure time evolution of network contractility in 3D (not 2D) extracellular matrix, we developed an ultrasensitive force sensor with 1 nN resolution. We employed Multi-Electrode Array and iGluSnFR, a glutamate sensor, to quantify neuronal firing at the network and at the single synapse scale, respectively. When neuron contractility is relaxed, both techniques show significantly reduced firing. Firing resumes when contractility is restored. This finding highlights the essential contribution of neural contractility in fundamental brain functions and has implications for our understanding of neural physiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2311995120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - Dec 19 2023


  • neural network firing
  • neuronal communication
  • synaptic contractility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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