Aligning Synthetic Hippocampal Neural Circuits via Self-Rolled-Up Silicon Nitride Microtube Arrays

Directing neurons to form predetermined circuits with the intention of treating neurological disorders and neurodegenerative diseases is a fundamental goal and current challenge in neuroengineering. Until recently, only neuronal aggregates were studied and characterized in culture, which can limit information gathered to populations of cells. In this study, we use a substrate constructed of arrays of strain-induced self-rolled-up membrane 3D architectures. This results in changes in the neuronal architecture and altered growth dynamics of neurites. Hippocampal neurons from postnatal rats were cultured at low confluency (∼250 cells mm–2) on an array of transparent rolled-up microtubes (μ-tubes; 4–5 μm diameter) of varying topographical arrangements. Neurite growth on the μ-tubes was characterized and compared to controls in order to establish a baseline for alignment imposed by the topography. Compared to control substrates, neurites are significantly more aligned toward the 0° reference on the μ-tube array. Pitch (20–60 and 100 μm) and μ-tube length (30–80 μm) of array elements were also varied to investigate their impact on neurite alignment. We found that alignment was improved by the gradient pitch arrangement and with longer μ-tubes. Application of this technology will enhance the ability to construct intentional neural circuits through array design and manipulation of individual neurons and can be adapted to address challenges in neural repair, reinnervation, and neuroregeneration.