CNS injury may lead to permanent functional deficits because it is still not possible to regenerate axons over long distances and accurately reconnect them with an appropriate target. Using rat neurons, microtools, and nanotools, we show that new, functional neurites can be created and precisely positioned to directly (re)wire neuronal networks. We show that an adhesive contact made onto an axon or dendrite can be pulled to initiate a new neurite that can be mechanically guided to form new synapses at up to 0.8 mm distance in <1 h. Our findings challenge current understanding of the limits of neuronal growth and have direct implications for the development of new therapies and surgical techniques to achieve functional regeneration. Significance statement: Brain and spinal cord injury may lead to permanent disability and death because it is still not possible to regenerate neurons over long distances and accurately reconnect them with an appropriate target. Using microtools and nanotools we have developed a new method to rapidly initiate, elongate, and precisely connect new functional neuronal circuits over long distances. The extension rates achieved are ≥60 times faster than previously reported. Our findings have direct implications for the development of new therapies and surgical techniques to achieve functional regeneration after trauma and in neurodegenerative diseases. It also opens the door for the direct wiring of robust brain-machine interfaces as well as for investigations of fundamental aspects of neuronal signal processing and neuronal function.
Keywords: atomic force microscopy; axonal growth; electrophysiology; neurodegenerative disease; neuronal networks; neuronal regeneration.
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