A method to produce silicon chips that reproduce the electrical behaviour of biological neurons is presented in Nature Communications this week. The approach could lead to the development of bionic chips to repair biological circuits in the nervous system when regulation of functions is lost as a result of disease.
Alain Nogaret and colleagues designed microcircuits modelling ion channels that integrate raw nervous stimuli and respond in a similar way to biological neurons. The authors then recreated the activity of individual hippocampal and respiratory neurons in silicon chips. In a series of 60 electrical stimulation protocols, they found that the solid-state neurons produced nearly identical electrical responses when compared to biological neurons.
The authors note that respiratory neurons, such as those they have modelled, couple respiratory and cardiac rhythms and are responsible for respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Loss of this coupling through age or disease is a prognosis for sleep apnoea and heart failure. They suggest that a device that adapts biofeedback in the same way as respiratory neurons may offer a potential therapy in the future.
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