PerspectiveSynthetic Biology

Neuron-targeted electrical modulation

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Science  20 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6484, pp. 1303-1304
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb0216

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Conductive polymers have been widely studied and used for biomedical applications—including as biosensors, neural prostheses, and bioactuators—and for drug delivery and tissue engineering (1). Conductive polymers are organic chains of alternating single and double bonds, which endow the polymers with metal-like semiconductive properties. Exogenous application of electrical stimulation to these polymers can promote cellular activities such as proliferation, adhesion, migration, differentiation, and protein secretion. Because many cells and tissues, particularly neurons, are responsive to electrical fields, conductive polymers are attractive for biological and medical applications. On page 1372 of this issue, Liu et al. (2) report a genetically targeted approach to assemble conductive polymers in neurons. This in turn remodels membrane electrical properties and enables cell type–specific cellular and behavioral modulation, such as control of neuronal firing, as demonstrated in cultures of rat hippocampal neurons, mouse brain slices, human cortical spheroids, and in living Caenorhabditis elegans worms.

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