An electronic scaffold can promote brain regeneration and simultaneously monitor the functional rewiring of neural circuits in mice following a brain lesion. This multimodal, 3D electronic scaffold, called a vasculature-like electronic scaffold (VasES), encourages the migration and functional integration of endogenous newborn neurons into damaged brain tissue. This research supports the idea that combining bioelectronics with strategies based on the body’s capacity for neurogenesis can be an effective method for repairing damaged neural circuits after CNS injury.

The article, “Laminin-coated electronic scaffolds with vascular topography for tracking and promoting the migration of brain cells after injury,” was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Co-lead authors Xiao Yang and Yue Qi, together with colleagues from Harvard University, developed the VasES design based on recent findings that showed how newborn neurons migrate from the subventricular zone (SVZ), one of the two neurogenic niches in the adult mammalian brain.

VasES was developed to aid in migrating new neurons by mimicking the vasculature’s shape and surface properties. The topographical features of the electronic scaffold, in particular, were designed to mimic the fractal organization and branched structure of blood vessels of comparable dimensions. These feature sizes also align with those that provide the most effective guidance cues for directing neurite outgrowth and neural cell migration.

How materials interact with living things is also greatly affected by their surface properties. For example, the use of silicon probes with surface modifications can reduce glial scarring, which is a dense border formed by astrocytes around a neural lesion. To give the electronic scaffold the appearance of a blood vessel, the researchers coated its surface with laminin, a protein that is important for blood vessel basement membranes. The last component of the VasES included 32 platinum electrodes with a 20 μm diameter that could be individually addressed, allowing for single-unit electrophysiological recording.

VasES was shown to act as a structural and bioactive 3D scaffold that facilitates neuronal cell migration and tissue regeneration in a cortical resection. This surgical procedure removes damaged brain tissue that results in focal seizures. The data presented by the researchers indicates that VasES stimulates the formation of new tissue by triggering the migration and repopulation of various cell types, such as functioning neurons, which are essential for restoring the cellular composition and architecture of the tissue.

Newborn neurons were demonstrated to be functionally active and involved in circuit rewiring. Following cortical resection, mice with VasES implantation appeared to recover from motor impairment more quickly than those without VasES implantation, according to preliminary motor behavior studies using the rotarod test. However, additional sensorimotor testing and complementary measurements will be required in future studies to comprehend these encouraging changes fully.

VasES tests that include sensors integrated into both the host and resected brain tissues provide a wealth of new opportunities for applying active bioelectronic scaffolds in treating brain diseases while monitoring patient recovery. Electronic implants mimicking the topographical and surface properties of brain vasculature may aid in the stimulation and tracking of neural circuit restoration following injury.

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