Objective: Electrical stimulation of cortical tissue could be used to deliver sensory information as part of a neuroprosthetic device, but current control of the location, resolution, quality, and intensity of sensations elicited by intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) remains inadequate for this purpose. One major obstacle to resolving this problem is the poor understanding of the neural activity induced by ICMS. Even with new imaging methods, quantifying the activity of many individual neurons within cortex is difficult.
Approach: We used computational modeling to examine the response of somatosensory cortex to ICMS. We modeled the axonal arbors of eight distinct morphologies of interneurons and seven types of pyramidal neurons found in somatosensory cortex and identified their responses to extracellular stimulation. We then combined these axonal elements to form a multi-layered slab of simulated cortex and investigated the patterns of neural activity directly induced by ICMS. Specifically we estimated the number, location, and variety of neurons directly recruited by stimulation on a single penetrating microelectrode.
Main results: The population of neurons activated by ICMS was dependent on both stimulation strength and the depth of the electrode within cortex. Strikingly, stimulation recruited interneurons and pyramidal neurons in very different patterns. Interneurons are primarily recruited within a dense, continuous region around the electrode, while pyramidal neurons were recruited in a sparse fashion both near the electrode and up to several millimeters away. Thus ICMS can lead to an unexpectedly complex spatial distribution of firing neurons.
Significance: These results lend new insights to the complexity and range of neural activity that can be induced by ICMS. This work also suggests mechanisms potentially responsible for the inconsistency and unnatural quality of sensations initiated by ICMS. Understanding these mechanisms will aid in the design of stimulation that can be used to generate effective sensory feedback for neuroprosthetic devices.