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Intracellular recordings of action potentials by an extracellular nanoscale field-effect transistor


The ability to make electrical measurements inside cells has led to many important advances in electrophysiology1,2,3,4,5,6. The patch clamp technique, in which a glass micropipette filled with electrolyte is inserted into a cell, offers both high signal-to-noise ratio and temporal resolution1,2. Ideally, the micropipette should be as small as possible to increase the spatial resolution and reduce the invasiveness of the measurement, but the overall performance of the technique depends on the impedance of the interface between the micropipette and the cell interior1,2, which limits how small the micropipette can be. Techniques that involve inserting metal or carbon microelectrodes into cells are subject to similar constraints4,7,8,9. Field-effect transistors (FETs) can also record electric potentials inside cells10, and because their performance does not depend on impedance11,12, they can be made much smaller than micropipettes and microelectrodes. Moreover, FET arrays are better suited for multiplexed measurements. Previously, we have demonstrated FET-based intracellular recording with kinked nanowire structures10, but the kink configuration and device design places limits on the probe size and the potential for multiplexing. Here, we report a new approach in which a SiO2 nanotube is synthetically integrated on top of a nanoscale FET. This nanotube penetrates the cell membrane, bringing the cell cytosol into contact with the FET, which is then able to record the intracellular transmembrane potential. Simulations show that the bandwidth of this branched intracellular nanotube FET (BIT-FET) is high enough for it to record fast action potentials even when the nanotube diameter is decreased to 3 nm, a length scale well below that accessible with other methods1,2,4. Studies of cardiomyocyte cells demonstrate that when phospholipid-modified BIT-FETs are brought close to cells, the nanotubes can spontaneously penetrate the cell membrane to allow the full-amplitude intracellular action potential to be recorded, thus showing that a stable and tight seal forms between the nanotube and cell membrane. We also show that multiple BIT-FETs can record multiplexed intracellular signals from both single cells and networks of cells.

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Figure 1: Branched intracellular nanotube field-effect transistor (BIT-FET).
Figure 2: Water gate characterization and bandwidth analysis.
Figure 3: Recording intracellular action potentials.
Figure 4: Multiplexed intracellular recording.


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The authors thank Z. Jiang and H. Yan for helpful discussions. R.G. acknowledges a Japan Student Services Organization Graduate Research Fellowship. C.M.L. acknowledges a NIH Director's Pioneer Award (5DP1OD003900).

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Authors and Affiliations



X.D. and C.M.L. designed the experiments. X.D., R.G., T.C-K., Q.Q., H.S.C. and B.T. performed experiments. X.D., P.X. and Q.Q. performed modelling and analyses. X.D., P.X., Q.Q., X.J. and C.M.L. analysed data. X.D., P.X. and C.M.L. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Charles M. Lieber.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Duan, X., Gao, R., Xie, P. et al. Intracellular recordings of action potentials by an extracellular nanoscale field-effect transistor. Nature Nanotech 7, 174–179 (2012).

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