Toward Intelligent Synthetic Neural Circuits: Directing and Accelerating Neuron Cell Growth by Self-Rolled-Up Silicon Nitride Microtube Array

In neural interface platforms, cultures are often carried out on a flat, open, rigid, and opaque substrate, posing challenges to reflecting the native microenvironment of the brain and precise engagement with neurons. Here we present a neuron cell culturing platform that consists of arrays of ordered microtubes (2.7–4.4 μm in diameter), formed by strain-induced self-rolled-up nanomembrane (s-RUM) technology using ultrathin (<40 nm) silicon nitride (SiNx) film on transparent substrates. These microtubes demonstrated robust physical confinement and unprecedented guidance effect toward outgrowth of primary cortical neurons, with a coaxially confined configuration resembling that of myelin sheaths. The dynamic neural growth inside the microtube, evaluated with continuous live-cell imaging, showed a marked increase (20×) of the growth rate inside the microtube compared to regions outside the microtubes. We attribute the dramatic accelerating effect and precise guiding of the microtube array to three-dimensional (3D) adhesion and electrostatic interaction with the SiNx microtubes, respectively. This work has clear implications toward building intelligent synthetic neural circuits by arranging the size, site, and patterns of the microtube array, for potential treatment of neurological disorders.