Cortical layering disrupts multi-electrode current steering

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Abstract Objective. Blindness affects approximately 40 million people worldwide and has inspired the development of cortical visual prostheses for restoring sight. Cortical visual prostheses electrically stimulate neurons of the visual cortex to artificially evoke visual percepts. Of the 6 layers of the visual cortex, layer 4 contains neurons that are likely to evoke a visual percept. Intracortical prostheses therefore aim to target layer 4; however, this can be difficult due to cortical curvature, inter-subject cortical variability, blindness-induced anatomical changes in cortex, and electrode placement variations. We investigated the feasibility of using current steering to stimulate specific cortical layers between electrodes in the laminar column. Approach. We explored whether the multiunit neural activity peak can be manipulated between two simultaneously stimulating electrodes in different layers of the cortical column. A 64-channel, 4-shank electrode array was implanted into the visual cortex of Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 7) orthogonal to the cortical surface. A remote return electrode was positioned over the frontal cortex in the same hemisphere. Charge was supplied to two stimulating electrodes along a single shank. Differing ratios of charge (100:0, 75:25, 50:50) and separation distances (300-500 μm) were tested. Results. Current steering across the cortical layers did not result in a consistent shift of the neural activity peak. Both single-electrode and dual-electrode stimulation induced activity throughout the cortical column. This contrasts observations that current steering evoked a controllable peak of neural activity between electrodes implanted at similar cortical depths. However, dual-electrode stimulation across the layers did reduce the stimulation threshold at each site compared to single-electrode stimulation. Significance. Multi-electrode stimulation is not suitable for targeted activation of layers using current steering. However, it can be used to reduce activation thresholds at adjacent electrodes within a given cortical layer. This may be applied to reduce the stimulation side effects of neural prostheses, such as seizures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number036031
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • cortical stimulation
  • current steering
  • visual cortex
  • visual prostheses

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