Single-layer graphene modulates neuronal communication and augments membrane ion currents

Nat Nanotechnol. 2018 Aug;13(8):755-764. doi: 10.1038/s41565-018-0163-6. Epub 2018 Jun 11.


The use of graphene-based materials to engineer sophisticated biosensing interfaces that can adapt to the central nervous system requires a detailed understanding of how such materials behave in a biological context. Graphene's peculiar properties can cause various cellular changes, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we show that single-layer graphene increases neuronal firing by altering membrane-associated functions in cultured cells. Graphene tunes the distribution of extracellular ions at the interface with neurons, a key regulator of neuronal excitability. The resulting biophysical changes in the membrane include stronger potassium ion currents, with a shift in the fraction of neuronal firing phenotypes from adapting to tonically firing. By using experimental and theoretical approaches, we hypothesize that the graphene-ion interactions that are maximized when single-layer graphene is deposited on electrically insulating substrates are crucial to these effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry
  • Biocompatible Materials / pharmacology*
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Graphite / chemistry
  • Graphite / pharmacology*
  • Nanostructures* / chemistry
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Rats


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Graphite
  • Potassium