Researchers develop new probes to record neural activity in brain

10 November 2017 (Last Updated November 10th, 2017 09:41)

Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the US have developed new silicone probes, Neuropixels, to simultaneously monitor the activity of multiple neurons from multiple brain regions.

Researchers develop new probes to record neural activity in brain
Close-up showing a wafer with Neuropixels probes and test devices. Credit: Tim Harris/imec.

Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the US have developed new silicone probes, Neuropixels, to simultaneously monitor the activity of multiple neurons from multiple brain regions.

The easy-to-use technology is intended to offer a precise understanding of the mechanism of nerve cells involved in behaviour and cognition.

In addition to HHMI, the $5.5m collaboration project was funded by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in the US, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and Wellcome in the UK.

The researchers have worked with Belgian international nanoelectronics research centre, imec, to develop and evaluate new devices for the detection of neural activity.

Neuropixels are implantable devices that can place numerous recording electrodes across a large span of the brain to enable collection of more meaningful data during a single experiment.

The probes can record multiple regions of the brain and are reported to have allowed recording from more than 700 neurons with the use of two probes.

The recording electrodes of the probes are densely packed to enable easy recognition of the cellular sources of brain activity and feature a nearly complete recording system, minimising hardware size, cost and removing several output wires.

Wellcome Neuroscience and Mental Health head Andrew Welchman said: “The history of computing shows how small silicon circuits can revolutionise how we tackle hard problems.

“Neuropixels probes will change what we know and even how we think about the brain.”

“Neuropixels probes will change what we know and even how we think about the brain.

“We still have a long way to go in uncovering the brain’s mysteries, but this new technology is an important development.”

More than 400 prototype Neuropixels probes are currently being tested at various research centres such as 20 labs affiliated with Gatsby and Wellcome, as well as eight HHMI labs.

The probes are expected to be available for research laboratories by mid-next year.