Intracortical current steering shifts the location of evoked neural activity

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Objective.Intracortical visual prostheses are being developed to restore sight in people who are blind. The resolution of artificial vision is dictated by the location, proximity and number of electrodes implanted in the brain. However, increasing electrode count and proximity is traded off against tissue damage. Hence, new stimulation methods are needed that can improve the resolution of artificial vision without increasing the number of electrodes. We investigated whether a technique known as current steering can improve the resolution of artificial vision provided by intracortical prostheses without increasing the number of physical electrodes in the brain.Approach.We explored how the locus of neuronal activation could be steered when low amplitude microstimulation was applied simultaneously to two intracortical electrodes. A 64-channel, four-shank electrode array was implanted into the visual cortex of rats (n= 7). The distribution of charge ranged from single-electrode stimulation (100%:0%) to an equal distribution between the two electrodes (50%:50%), thereby steering the current between the physical electrodes. The stimulating electrode separation varied between 300 and 500μm. The peak of the evoked activity was defined as the 'virtual electrode' location.Main results.Current steering systematically shifted the virtual electrode on average between the stimulating electrodes as the distribution of charge was moved from one stimulating electrode to another. This effect was unclear in single trials due to the limited sampling of neurons. A model that scales the cortical response to each physical electrode when stimulated in isolation predicts the evoked virtual electrode response. Virtual electrodes were found to elicit a neural response as effectively and predictably as physical electrodes within cortical tissue on average.Significance.Current steering could be used to increase the resolution of intracortical electrode arrays without altering the number of physical electrodes which will reduce neural tissue damage, power consumption and potential heat dispersion issues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number035003
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2022


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

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