Free-standing kinked nanowire transistor probes for targeted intracellular recording in three dimensions


Recording intracellular (IC) bioelectrical signals is central to understanding the fundamental behaviour of cells and cell networks in, for example, neural and cardiac systems1,2,3,4. The standard tool for IC recording, the patch-clamp micropipette5 is applied widely, yet remains limited in terms of reducing the tip size, the ability to reuse the pipette5 and ion exchange with the cytoplasm6. Recent efforts have been directed towards developing new chip-based tools1,2,3,4,7,8,9,10,11,12,13, including micro-to-nanoscale metal pillars7,8,9, transistor-based kinked nanowires10,11 and nanotube devices12,13. These nanoscale tools are interesting with respect to chip-based multiplexing, but, so far, preclude targeted recording from specific cell regions and/or subcellular structures. Here we overcome this limitation in a general manner by fabricating free-standing probes in which a kinked silicon nanowire with an encoded field-effect transistor detector serves as the tip end. These probes can be manipulated in three dimensions within a standard microscope to target specific cells or cell regions, and record stable full-amplitude IC action potentials from different targeted cells without the need to clean or change the tip. Simultaneous measurements from the same cell made with free-standing nanowire and patch-clamp probes show that the same action potential amplitude and temporal properties are recorded without corrections to the raw nanowire signal. In addition, we demonstrate real-time monitoring of changes in the action potential as different ion-channel blockers are applied to cells, and multiplexed recording from cells by independent manipulation of two free-standing nanowire probes.

Figure 1: Intracellular recording methods.
Figure 2: Fabrication and assembly of free-standing nanowire probes.
Figure 3: Intracellular recording using free-standing nanowire probes.
Figure 4: Multiplexed recording with free-standing nanowire probes.


  1. 1

    Parpura, V. Bionanoelectronics: getting close to the action. Nature Nanotech. 7, 143–145 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Spira, M. & Hai, A. Multi-electrode array technologies for neuroscience and cardiology. Nature Nanotech. 8, 83–94 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Duan, X., Fu, T-M., Liu, J. & Lieber, C. M. Nanoelectronics–biology frontier: from nanoscopic probes for action potential recording in live cells to three-dimensional cyborg tissues. Nano Today 8, 351–373 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Dunlop, J., Bowlby, M., Peri, R., Vasilyev, D. & Arias, R. High-throughput electrophysiology: an emerging paradigm for ion-channel screening and physiology. Nature Rev. Drug Discov. 7, 358–368 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Molleman, A. Patch Clamping: An Introductory Guide to Patch Clamp Electrophysiology (Wiley, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Sakmann B. & Neher E. Single-Channel Recording (Plenum Press, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Xie, C., Lin, Z., Hanson, L., Cui, Y. & Cui, B. Intracellular recording of action potentials by nanopillar electroporation. Nature Nanotech. 7, 185–190 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Robinson, J. T. et al. Vertical nanowire electrode arrays as a scalable platform for intracellular interfacing to neuronal circuits. Nature Nanotech. 7, 180–184 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Hai, A., Shappir, J. & Spira, M. E. Long-term, multisite, parallel, in-cell recording and stimulation by an array of extracellular microelectrodes. J. Neurophysiol. 104, 559–568 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Tian, B. et al. Three-dimensional, flexible nanoscale field-effect transistors as localized bioprobes. Science 329, 830–834 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Jiang, Z., Qing, Q., Xie, P., Gao, R. X. & Lieber, C. M. Kinked pn junction nanowire probes for high spatial resolution sensing and intracellular recording. Nano Lett. 12, 1711–1716 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

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

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Gao, R. X. et al. Outside looking in: nanotube transistor intracellular sensors. Nano Lett. 12, 3329–3333 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Tian, B. et al. Macroporous nanowire nanoelectronic scaffolds for synthetic tissues. Nature Mater. 11, 986–994 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Tian, B., Xie, P., Kempa, T. J., Bell, D. C. & Lieber, C. M. Single-crystalline kinked semiconductor nanowire superstructures. Nature Nanotech. 4, 824–829 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Bers, D. M. Cardiac excitation–contraction coupling. Nature 415, 198–205 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Zipes, D. P. & Jalife, J. Cardiac Electrophysiology: From Cell to Bedside 2nd edn (Saunders, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Chernomordik, L. V. & Kozlov, M. M. Mechanics of membrane fusion. Nature Struct. Mol. Biol. 15, 675–683 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Nicolas, J., Mura, S., Brambilla, D., Mackiewicz, N. & Couvreur, P. Design, functionalization strategies and biomedical applications of targeted biodegradable/biocompatible polymer-based nanocarriers for drug delivery. Chem. Soc. Rev. 42, 1147–1235 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Subbiah, R., Veerapandian, M., & Yun, K. S. Nanoparticles: functionalization and multifunctional applications in biomedical sciences. Curr. Med. Chem. 17, 4559–4577 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Kotov, N. A. et al. Nanomaterials for neural interfaces. Adv. Mater. 21, 3970–4004 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Hai, A., Shappir, J. & Spira, M. E. In-cell recordings by extracellular microelectrodes. Nature Methods 7, 200–202 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Szentandrassy, N. et al. Powerful technique to test selectivity of agents acting on cardiac ion channels: the action potential voltage-clamp. Curr. Med. Chem. 18, 3737–3756 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Viatchenko-Karpinski, S. et al. Intracellular Ca2+ oscillations drive spontaneous contractions in cardiomyocytes during early development. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 96, 8259–8264 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Davie, J. T. et al. Dendritic patch-clamp recording. Nature Protocols 1, 1235–1247 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Xu, L. et al. Design and synthesis of diverse functional kinked nanowire structures for nanoelectronic bioprobes. Nano Lett. 13, 746–751 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Akbarali, H. I., Wyse, D. G. & Giles, W. R. Ionic currents in single cells from human cystic artery. Circ. Res. 70, 536–545 (1992).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Chilton, L. et al. K+ currents regulate the resting membrane potential, proliferation, and contractile responses in ventricular fibroblasts and myofibroblasts. Am. J. Physiol. Heart Circ. Physiol. 288, H2931–H2939 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Clark, B. A. & Mobbs, P. Voltage-gated currents in rabbit retinal astrocytes. Eur. J. Neurosci. 6, 1406–1414 (1994).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


C.M.L. acknowledges support of this work by a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award (5DP1OD003900), National Basic Research Program of China (2013CB934103), and International Science & Technology Corporation Program of China (2013DFA50840).

Author information




Q.Q., Z.J. and C.M.L. designed the experiments, Q.Q., Z.J., and L.X. performed the experiments, R.G. helped in cardiomyocyte culture experiments, Q.Q., Z.J., L.X. and C.M.L. analysed data and Q.Q., Z.J. and C.M.L. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Charles M. Lieber.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary information (PDF 670 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Qing, Q., Jiang, Z., Xu, L. et al. Free-standing kinked nanowire transistor probes for targeted intracellular recording in three dimensions. Nature Nanotech 9, 142–147 (2014).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Find nanotechnology articles, nanomaterial data and patents all in one place. Visit Nano by Nature Research