Sensing serotonin secreted from human serotonergic neurons using aptamer-modified nanopipettes

Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Jul;26(7):2753-2763. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01066-5. Epub 2021 Mar 25.


The serotonergic system in the human brain modulates several physiological processes, and altered serotonergic neurotransmission has been implicated in the neuropathology of several psychiatric disorders. The study of serotonergic neurotransmission in psychiatry has long been restricted to animal models, but advances in cell reprogramming technology have enabled the generation of serotonergic neurons from patient-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). While iPSC-derived human serotonergic neurons offer the possibility to study serotonin (5-HT) release and uptake, particularly by 5-HT-modulating drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a major limitation is the inability to reliably quantify 5-HT secreted from neurons in vitro. Herein, we address this technical gap via a novel sensing technology that couples 5-HT-specific DNA aptamers into nanopores (glass nanopipettes) with orifices of ~10 nm to detect 5-HT in complex neuronal culture medium with higher selectivity, sensitivity, and stability than existing methods. The 5-HT aptamers undergo conformational rearrangement upon target capture and serve as gatekeepers of ionic flux through the nanopipette opening. We generated human serotonergic neurons in vitro and detected secreted 5-HT using aptamer-coated nanopipettes in a low nanomolar range, with the possibility of detecting significantly lower (picomolar) concentrations. Furthermore, as a proof of concept, we treated human serotonergic neurons in vitro with the SSRI citalopram and detected a significant increase in extracellular 5-HT using the aptamer-modified nanopipettes. We demonstrate the utility of such methods for 5-HT detection, raising the possibility of fast quantification of neurotransmitters secreted from patient-derived live neuronal cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Citalopram / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Serotonergic Neurons*
  • Serotonin*


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram
  • Serotonin