A polymer optoelectronic interface restores light sensitivity in blind rat retinas


Interfacing organic electronics with biological substrates offers new possibilities for biotechnology by taking advantage of the beneficial properties exhibited by organic conducting polymers. These polymers have been used for cellular interfaces in several applications, including cellular scaffolds, neural probes, biosensors and actuators for drug release. Recently, an organic photovoltaic blend has been used for neuronal stimulation via a photo-excitation process. Here, we document the use of a single-component organic film of poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) to trigger neuronal firing upon illumination. Moreover, we demonstrate that this bio–organic interface restores light sensitivity in explants of rat retinas with light-induced photoreceptor degeneration. These findings suggest that all-organic devices may play an important future role in subretinal prosthetic implants.

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Figure 1: Characterization of the photostimulus generated by the polymeric interface.
Figure 2: Photovoltaic excitation of neurons mediated by a P3HT active layer.
Figure 3: The photoreceptor layer is replaced in the degenerate retina by the organic polymer.
Figure 4: The P3HT layer restores responses in blind retinas.


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The authors thank M. Nanni, G. Pruzzo and F. Succol for technical advice and M. dal Maschio and P. Baldelli for help with data interpretation and discussions. The authors also thank A.J. Heeger, P. Greengard, L.M. Chalupa and L. Maffei for critical reading of the manuscript. The research was supported by the FP7-PEOPLE-212-ITN (‘OLIMPIA’ grant #316832), the Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (‘Multidisciplinary Projects’) and Telethon – Italy (GGP12033 grant to G.L., F.B. and S.B.). The authors also acknowledge support from M. Monti and by R. and I. Munari Gloder. The manuscript was revised by the American Journal Experts editing organization.

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D.G. prepared cell cultures, degenerate animals and retinal explants, planned experiments, performed photostimulation experiments and cell viability assays, analysed data and wrote the manuscript. M.R.A. planned the experiments, discussed the results and wrote the manuscript. R.M. prepared degenerate animals, performed retinal sections and acquired confocal images. E.L. prepared polymer samples. S.Be., E.L. and N.M. performed polymer-film electro-optical characterization and analysed data. M.M. and G.P. discussed results. S.Bi. discussed electrophysiological experiments with retinal explants. G.L. and F.B. planned experiments, interpreted and discussed the data, wrote the manuscript and supported the research. All authors discussed the results and revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Guglielmo Lanzani or Fabio Benfenati.

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Ghezzi, D., Antognazza, M., Maccarone, R. et al. A polymer optoelectronic interface restores light sensitivity in blind rat retinas. Nature Photon 7, 400–406 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2013.34

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