Chronic inflammation surrounding intra-cortical electrodes is correlated with a local, neurodegenerative state

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McConnell, George Charles
Bellamkonda, Ravi V.
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Thanks to pioneering scientists and clinicians, prosthetic devices that are controlled by intra-cortical electrodes recording one's 'thoughts' are a reality today, and no longer merely in the realm of science fiction. However, widespread clinical use of implanted electrodes is hampered by a lack of reliability in chronic recordings, independent of the type of electrodes used. The dominant hypothesis has been that astroglial scar electrically impedes the electrodes. However, recent studies suggest that the impedance changes associated with the astroglial scar are not high enough to interfere significantly impair neural recordings. Furthermore, there is a time delay between when scar electrically stabilizes and when neural recordings fail (typically >1 month lag), suggesting that scar, per se, does not cause chronic recording unreliability. In this study, an alternative hypothesis was tested in a rat model, namely, that chronic inflammation surrounding microelectrodes causes a local neurodegenerative state. Chronic inflammation was varied in three ways: 1) stab wound control, 2) age-matched control, and 3) inter-shank spacing of a multishank electrode. The results of this study suggest that chronic inflammation, as indicated by activated microglia and reactive astrocytes, is correlated with local neurodegeneration, marked by neuron cell death and dendritic loss. Surprisingly, axonal pathology in the form of hyperphosphorylation of the protein Tau (the hallmark of many tauopathies, including Alzheimer's Disease) was also observed in the immediate vicinity of microelectrodes implanted for 16 weeks. Additionally, work is presented on a fast, non-invasive method to monitor the astrocytic response to intra-cortical electrodes using electrical impedance spectroscopy. This work provides a non-invasive monitoring tool for inflammation, albeit an indirect one, and fills a gap which has slowed the development of strategies to control the inflammatory tissue response surrounding microelectrodes and thereby improve the reliability of chronic neural recordings. The results of these experiments have significance for the field of neuroengineering, because a more accurate understanding of why recordings fail is integral to engineering reliable solutions for integrating brain tissue with microelectrode arrays.
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