Prototype chemical synapse chip for spatially patterned neurotransmitter stimulation of the retina ex vivo

Corey M Roundtree, Ashwin Raghunathan, John B Troy, Laxman Saggere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Biomimetic stimulation of the retina with neurotransmitters, the natural agents of communication at chemical synapses, could be more effective than electrical stimulation for treating blindness from photoreceptor degenerative diseases. Recent studies have demonstrated the feasibility of neurotransmitter stimulation by injecting glutamate, a primary retinal neurotransmitter, into the retina at isolated single sites. Here, we demonstrate spatially patterned multisite stimulation of the retina with glutamate, offering the first experimental evidence for applicability of this strategy for translating visual patterns into afferent neural signals. To accomplish pattern stimulation, we fabricated a special microfluidic device comprising an array of independently addressable microports connected to tiny on-chip glutamate reservoirs via microchannels. The device prefilled with glutamate was interfaced with explanted rat retinas placed over a multielectrode array (MEA) with the retinal ganglion cells (RGC) contacting the electrodes and photoreceptor surface contacting the microports. By independently and simultaneously activating a subset of the microports with modulated pressure pulses, small boluses of glutamate were convectively injected at multiple sites in alphabet patterns over the photoreceptor surface. We found that the glutamate-driven RGC responses recorded through the MEA system were robust and spatially laid out in patterns strongly resembling the injection patterns. The stimulations were also highly localized with spatial resolutions comparable to or better than electrical retinal prostheses. Our findings suggest that surface stimulation of the retina with neurotransmitters in pixelated patterns of visual images is feasible and an artificial chemical synapse chip based on this approach could potentially circumvent the limitations of electrical retinal prostheses.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17052
JournalMicrosystems & Nanoengineering
StatePublished - 2017


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