New Neuroscience Study Accelerates Bionic Brain Potential

Optogenetics enables artificial and biological neuronal networks to communicate.

Posted Jul 14, 2020

GJD/Pixabay
Source: GJD/Pixabay

Can a biological neuronal network be controlled by an artificial one? Recently pioneering brain researchers released a study in Scientific Reports that demonstrates real-time communication between an artificial neuronal network with a biological one using optogenetics.

For the study, the researchers grew an in-vitro biological neuronal network on a multi-electrode array (MEA) and ran an artificial spiking neural network (SNN) on a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) board. FPGA boards are popular semiconductor devices with configurable logic blocks and interconnection circuits. These low-power digital system boards are a good fit for bio-hybrid experiments and operate in real-time.

A spiking neuronal network (SNN) consisting of 100 neurons (80 percent excitatory, 20 percent inhibitory) and 7,700 synapses was used in the study. The team utilized the artificial spiking neural network (SNN) to create neural activity to mimic a biological neuronal network (BNN) that were then encoded in real-time into patterns of blue-light.  

Using optogenetics, the team created real-time communications between the synthetic and biological neuronal networks. Optogenetics is a procedure where genetic code is added to a target cell such as a neuron, to enable it to produce light-responsive proteins called opsins that are typically extracted from the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, called channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2). When exposed to blue light, the cells inserted with opsin can switch on. When the light is removed, the cell with opsin switch off. This revolutionary method enables researchers to activate and switch off cells seeded with opsins.

The biological neuronal networks were transduced with channelrhodopsin-2 variant ChIEF. When blue light stimulated the transduced neurons, the activity was recorded using calcium imaging and a multi-electrode array.

The results showed that a high information transfer from a spiking neuronal network to a biological neuronal network is achievable when using the spiking network synchronizations to drive the biological synchronizations for linear responses to stimulus intensity, versus network bursts which are non-linear.

“This research provides further evidence of possible application of miniaturized SNN in future neuro-prosthetic devices for local replacement of injured micro-circuitries capable to communicate within larger brain networks,” wrote the researchers.

By 2024, the worldwide neuroprosthetics market is projected to reach USD 14.6 billion according to June 2016 figures from Grand View Research. One of the hopes of communicating with biological with artificial neurons is the potential to restore lost brain functionality.

This research illustrates an innovative combination of the interdisciplinary fields of optogenetics, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, neuroscience, and biophysics. This new discovery further advances the potential for neuroprosthetics to improve the lives of those impacted by injury or disease —providing a glimmer of hope for a better future through science.

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