Multifunctional fibers as tools for neuroscience and neuroengineering

Abstract

Multifunctional devices for modulation and probing of neuronal activity during free behavior facilitate studies of functions and pathologies of the nervous system. Probes composed of stiff materials, such as metals and semiconductors, exhibit elastic and chemical mismatch with the neural tissue, which is hypothesized to contribute to sustained tissue damage and gliosis. Dense glial scars have been found to encapsulate implanted devices, corrode their surfaces, and often yield poor recording quality in long-term experiments. Motivated by the hypothesis that reducing the mechanical stiffness of implanted probes may improve their long-term reliability, a variety of probes based on soft materials have been developed. In addition to enabling electrical neural recording, these probes have been engineered to take advantage of genetic tools for optical neuromodulation. With the emergence of optogenetics, it became possible to optically excite or inhibit genetically identifiable cell types via expression of light-sensitive opsins. Optogenetics experiments often demand implantable multifunctional devices to optically stimulate, deliver viral vectors and drugs, and simultaneously record electrophysiological signals from the specified cells within the nervous system. Recent advances in microcontact printing and microfabrication techniques have equipped flexible probes with microscale light-emitting diodes (μLEDs), waveguides, and microfluidic channels. Complementary to these approaches, fiber drawing has emerged as a scalable route to integration of multiple functional features within miniature and flexible neural probes. The thermal drawing process relies on the fabrication of macroscale models containing the materials of interest, which are then drawn into microstructured fibers with predefined cross-sectional geometries. We have recently applied this approach to produce fibers integrating conductive electrodes for extracellular recording of single- and multineuron potentials, low-loss optical waveguides for optogenetic neuromodulation, and microfluidic channels for drug and viral vector delivery. These devices allowed dynamic investigation of the time course of opsin expression across multiple brain regions and enabled pairing of optical stimulation with local pharmacological intervention in behaving animals. Neural probes designed to interface with the spinal cord, a viscoelastic tissue undergoing repeated strain during normal movement, rely on the integration of soft and flexible materials to avoid injury and device failure. Employing soft substrates, such as parylene C and poly-(dimethylsiloxane), for electrode and μLED arrays permitted stimulation and recording of neural activity on the surface of the spinal cord. Similarly, thermally drawn flexible and stretchable optoelectronic fibers that resemble the fibrous structure of the spinal cord were implanted without any significant inflammatory reaction in the vicinity of the probes. These fibers enabled simultaneous recording and optogenetic stimulation of neural activity in the spinal cord. In this Account, we review the applications of multifunctional fibers and other integrated devices for optoelectronic probing of neural circuits and discuss engineering directions that may facilitate future studies of nerve repair and accelerate the development of bioelectronic medical devices.

Publication
Accounts of chemical research
Andres Canales
Researcher at Advanced Silicon Group
Seongjun Park
Assistant Professor at KAIST
Polina Anikeeva
Polina Anikeeva
Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering
Associate Professor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Associate Director, Research Laboratory of Electronics

My goal is to combine the current knowledge of biology and nanoelectronics to develop materials and devices for minimally invasive treatments for neurological and neuromuscular diseases.

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