The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Precise neural stimulation in the retina using focused ultrasound.

PMID 23467371


Focused ultrasound is a promising noninvasive technology for neural stimulation. Here we use the isolated salamander retina to characterize the effect of ultrasound on an intact neural circuit and compared these effects with those of visual stimulation of the same retinal ganglion cells. Ultrasound stimuli at an acoustic frequency of 43 MHz and a focal spot diameter of 90 μm delivered from a piezoelectric transducer evoked stable responses with a temporal precision equal to strong visual responses but with shorter latency. By presenting ultrasound and visual stimulation together, we found that ultrasonic stimulation rapidly modulated visual sensitivity but did not change visual temporal filtering. By combining pharmacology with ultrasound stimulation, we found that ultrasound did not directly activate retinal ganglion cells but did in part activate interneurons beyond photoreceptors. These results suggest that, under conditions of strong localized stimulation, timing variability is largely influenced by cells beyond photoreceptors. We conclude that ultrasonic stimulation is an effective and spatiotemporally precise method to activate the retina. Because the retina is the most accessible part of the CNS in vivo, ultrasonic stimulation may have diagnostic potential to probe remaining retinal function in cases of photoreceptor degeneration, and therapeutic potential for use in a retinal prosthesis. In addition, because of its noninvasive properties and spatiotemporal resolution, ultrasound neurostimulation promises to be a useful tool to understand dynamic activity in pharmacologically defined neural pathways in the retina.

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