Neuronal differentiation and synapse formation of PC12 and embryonic stem cells on interdigitated microelectrode arrays: Contact structures for neuron-to-electrode signal transmission (NEST)

Erhard Bieberich, Anthony Guiseppi-Elie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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The development of neuron-microelectrode interfaces (neurochips) is highly desirable for the non-invasive recording of the cellular response to neuroactive drugs as well as the electrical stimulation of nervous tissue by implantable electrodes. A prerequisite for neuron-to-electrode signal transmission (NEST) is the formation of synapse-like contacts between the neuronal cell and the conductive surface of a microelectrode array. We attempted synapse formation by neuronal differentiation of rat pheochromocytoma cells (PC12) and blastocyst-derived murine embryonic stem cells (ES-J1) on interdigitated microelectrode arrays that were made of gold (Au), platinum (Pt), or indium tin oxide (ITO). PC12 or ES cells were in vitro differentiated by incubation with nerve growth factor (NGF) and forskolin, or by serum deprivation and treatment with basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2), respectively. On top of ITO electrodes, the neuronal cells extended extremely long processes that terminated in pili-like contact structures, which is typical for growth cone formation. ES cells differentiated into neurons as verified by immunofluorescence staining of MAP-2 and developed synapse-like junctions with the ITO electrode surface as indicated by synaptophysin staining. Differentiated PC12 and ES cells showed bona fide morphological characteristics of synaptic growth cones that were unprecedented in tissue culture. Cones formed by PC12 cells could be stimulated with KCl and carbachol as shown by uptake of FM1-43, a fluorescent marker for synaptic vesicle formation. In contrast to Electrical Cell Impedance Spectroscopy (ECIS) recordings, AC impedance spectrometry with differentiated PC12 cells settled on interdigitated microelectrode arrays revealed lower AC impedance than that with undifferentiated cells, indicating that the complex impedance is dependent on ion fluxes at the neuron-to-electrode contact surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)923-931
Number of pages9
JournalBiosensors and Bioelectronics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Mar 15 2004



  • ECIS
  • ES cells
  • Interdigitated electrode
  • Microarray
  • Neurochip
  • PC 12 cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Electrochemistry

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