Scientists have used terahertz pulses to control the properties of solid-state materials. They also have the potential for manipulating living cells, as they don’t damage them the way that ultraviolet or infrared light does.
“Terahertz pulses can generate a strong electric field without touching or damaging cells,” says Hirori. “We tested their effect on iPSCs and discovered that the activity of some gene networks changes as a result of terahertz light exposure.”
For example, they found the pulses activated genes involved in motor neuron survival and mitochondrial function. They also deactivated genes involved in cell differentiation, the process in which stem cells change into specialized body cells.
Further investigation found that these genes were influenced by zinc-dependent transcription factors. The scientists believe the terahertz pulses generate an electric field that causes zinc ions to move inside cells, impacting the function of transcription factors, which in turn activate or deactivate the genes they are responsible for.
Hirori says the findings could aid efforts to develop a technology that can manipulate iPSC differentiation into specific cells by turning off specific genes while keeping others on, paving the way for regenerative therapies for a wide range of diseases.