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Biomaterials. 2005 May;26(15):2549-57.

Synaptic plasticity in micropatterned neuronal networks.

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Institute of Thin Films and Interfaces (ISG-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich, D-52425 Jülich, Germany.


Synaptic plasticity is thought to be of central importance for information processing by the nervous system. Additionally, specific neuronal connectivity patterns in the brain are implicated to play a role in the perception, processing and storage of incoming signals. Experimental control over connectivity within functional neuronal networks is therefore a promising approach in research on signal transduction and processing by the nervous system. A cell culture system is presented that allows experimental determination of neuronal connectivity patterns in an in vitro network. Rat embryonic cortical neurons were grown on patterns of extracellular matrix proteins applied to polystyrene substrates by microcontact printing. Cells comply well with the pattern and form synaptic connections along the experimentally defined pathways. Chemical synapses identified by double patch-clamp measurement showed paired pulse depression as well as frequency-dependent depression in response to trains of stimuli. This type of short-term plasticity has similarly been reported by others in brain slices. Thus, the system reproduces features central for neuronal information processing while the architecture of the network is experimentally manipulable. The ability to tailor the geometry of functional neuronal networks offers a valuable tool both for fundamental questions in neuroscientific research and a wide range of biotechnological applications.

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