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J Neural Eng. 2012 Apr;9(2):026008. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/9/2/026008. Epub 2012 Feb 13.

Voltage-sensitive dye imaging reveals improved topographic activation of cortex in response to manipulation of thalamic microstimulation parameters.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology/Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.


Voltage-sensitive dye imaging was used to quantify in vivo, network level spatiotemporal cortical activation in response to electrical microstimulation of the thalamus in the rat vibrissa pathway. Thalamic microstimulation evoked a distinctly different cortical response than natural sensory stimulation, with response to microstimulation spreading over a larger area of cortex and being topographically misaligned with the cortical column to which the stimulated thalamic region projects. Electrical stimulation with cathode-leading asymmetric waveforms reduced this topographic misalignment while simultaneously increasing the spatial specificity of the cortical activation. Systematically increasing the asymmetry of the microstimulation pulses revealed a continuum between symmetric and asymmetric stimulation that gradually reduced the topographic bias. These data strongly support the hypothesis that manipulation of the electrical stimulation waveform can be used to selectively activate specific neural elements. Specifically, our results are consistent with the prediction that cathode-leading asymmetric waveforms preferentially stimulate cell bodies over axons, while symmetric waveforms preferentially activate axons over cell bodies. The findings here provide some initial steps toward the design and optimization of microstimulation of neural circuitry, and open the door to more sophisticated engineering tools, such as nonlinear system identification techniques, to develop technologies for more effective control of activity in the nervous system.

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