Development of optically controlled “living electrodes” with long-projecting axon tracts for a synaptic brain-machine interface

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Science Advances  22 Jan 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 4, eaay5347
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5347


For implantable neural interfaces, functional/clinical outcomes are challenged by limitations in specificity and stability of inorganic microelectrodes. A biological intermediary between microelectrical devices and the brain may improve specificity and longevity through (i) natural synaptic integration with deep neural circuitry, (ii) accessibility on the brain surface, and (iii) optogenetic manipulation for targeted, light-based readout/control. Accordingly, we have developed implantable “living electrodes,” living cortical neurons, and axonal tracts protected within soft hydrogel cylinders, for optobiological monitoring/modulation of brain activity. Here, we demonstrate fabrication, rapid axonal outgrowth, reproducible cytoarchitecture, and simultaneous optical stimulation and recording of these tissue engineered constructs in vitro. We also present their transplantation, survival, integration, and optical recording in rat cortex as an in vivo proof of concept for this neural interface paradigm. The creation and characterization of these functional, optically controllable living electrodes are critical steps in developing a new class of optobiological tools for neural interfacing.

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