Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department



Gao, Bruce Z

Committee Member

Webb , Ken C

Committee Member

Colacino , James M

Committee Member

Kindy , Mark S


The way cell-cell organization of neuronal networks influences activity and facilitates function is not well understood. Microelectrode arrays (MEAs) and advancing cell patterning technologies have enabled access to and control of in vitro neuronal networks spawning much new research in neuroscience and neuroengineering. We propose that small, simple networks of neurons with defined circuitry may serve as valuable research models where every connection can be analyzed, controlled and manipulated.
Towards the goal of creating such neuronal networks we have applied microfabricated elastomeric membranes, surface modification and our unique laser cell patterning system to create defined neuronal circuits with single-cell precision on MEAs.
Definition of synaptic connectivity was imposed by the 3D physical constraints of polydimethylsiloxane elastomeric membranes. The membranes had 20μm clear-through holes and 2-3μm deep channels which when applied to the surface of the MEA formed microwells to confine neurons to electrodes connected via shallow tunnels to direct neurite outgrowth. Tapering and turning of channels was used to influence neurite polarity. Biocompatibility of the membranes was increased by vacuum baking, oligomer extraction, and autoclaving. Membranes were bound to the MEA by oxygen plasma treatment and heated pressure.
The MEA/membrane surface was treated with oxygen plasma, poly-D-lysine and laminin to improve neuron attachment, survival and neurite outgrowth. Prior to cell patterning the outer edge of culture area was seeded with 5x105 cells per cm and incubated for 2 days. Single embryonic day 7 chick forebrain neurons were then patterned into the microwells and onto the electrodes using our laser cell patterning system.
Patterned neurons successfully attached to and were confined to the electrodes. Neurites extended through the interconnecting channels and connected with adjacent neurons. These results demonstrate that neuronal circuits can be created with clearly defined circuitry and a one-to-one neuron-electrode ratio. The techniques and processes described here may be used in future research to create defined neuronal circuits to model in vivo circuits and study neuronal network processing.