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Novel electrode technologies for neural recordings

An Author Correction to this article was published on 16 April 2019

This article has been updated


Neural recording electrode technologies have contributed considerably to neuroscience by enabling the extracellular detection of low-frequency local field potential oscillations and high-frequency action potentials of single units. Nevertheless, several long-standing limitations exist, including low multiplexity, deleterious chronic immune responses and long-term recording instability. Driven by initiatives encouraging the generation of novel neurotechnologies and the maturation of technologies to fabricate high-density electronics, novel electrode technologies are emerging. Here, we provide an overview of recently developed neural recording electrode technologies with high spatial integration, long-term stability and multiple functionalities. We describe how these emergent neurotechnologies can approach the ultimate goal of illuminating chronic brain activity with minimal disruption of the neural environment, thereby providing unprecedented opportunities for neuroscience research in the future.

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Fig. 1: Neural recording electrode technologies.
Fig. 2: Basic principles and physical constraints of electrode technologies.
Fig. 3: Emerging neural recording electrode technologies.

Change history

  • 16 April 2019

    In part b of Figure 2 in this article, the left bounds of the boxes representing the spatiotemporal resolution of ‘EEG/MEG’ and ‘ECoG’ were incorrect. Specifically, the limits of highest temporal resolution for EEG/MEG and ECoG were shown as ~200 ms and ~10 ms and are now corrected to ~2 ms and < 1 ms, respectively. In addition, the lower bounds of the boxes representing ‘fMRI/PET’ and ‘EEG/MEG’ incorrectly showed the highest spatial resolution limits of these technologies as ~1 mm and have been corrected to <1 mm and <10 mm, respectively. The upper bound of the ‘Implantable electrical probes’ box also incorrectly showed the spatial span as ~0.1 mm and has been corrected to between 0.1 and 1 mm due to different spans in different dimensions. The figure has been updated in the online version of the article.


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The authors thank S. R. Patel for helpful discussions. C.M.L. acknowledges support of this work by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA9550-14-1-0136) and a US National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award (1DP1EB025835-01). G.H. acknowledges support of this work by the Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00) from the US National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (4R00AG056636-03).

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Nature Reviews Neuroscience thanks J. Robinson and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Both authors researched data for the article, made substantial contributions to discussion of the content, wrote the article and reviewed or edited the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Charles M. Lieber.

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Competing interests

C.M.L. and G.H. are co-inventors on patents and patent applications relating to the article that have been filed by the authors’ institution (Harvard University), described below. The authors are not involved in efforts related to commercialization of this intellectual property (IP), including start-up companies or working with another company or group that might license the IP. ‘Scaffolds comprising nanoelectronic components, tissues, and other applications’, inventors C.M.L., J. Liu, B. Tian, T. Dvir, R. S. Langer and D. S. Kohane; US9,457,128 (issued); describes nanoscale transistors for cell recording. ‘Systems and methods for injectable devices’, inventors C.M.L., J. Liu, Z. Cheng, G.H., T.-M. Fu and T. Zhou; 61/975,601 (pending), PCT/US2015/024252 (pending) and 15/301,792 (pending); describes injectable mesh electronics. ‘Syringe injectable electronics: precise targeted delivery with quantitative input/output connectivity’, inventors C.M.L., G.H., T.-M. Fu and J. Huang; 62/201,006 (expired); describes injection method of mesh electronics. ‘Techniques and systems for injection and/or connection of electrical devices’, inventors C.M.L., G.H., T.-M. Fu and J. Huang; 62/209,255 (pending), PCT/US2016/045587 (issued) and 15/749,617 (pending); describes injection method of mesh electronics. ‘Interfaces for syringe-injectable electronics’, inventors C.M.L., T. G. Schuhmann, J. Yao, G.H. and T.-M. Fu; 62/505,562 (pending); describes the electrical connection method of mesh electronics.

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Microelectrode arrays each consisting of four closely bundled and independently addressable microwire electrodes. Action potentials from the same neuron can be detected with varying amplitudes across all four electrodes.

Michigan-type microelectrode arrays

Microelectrode arrays with recording sites distributed along the length of each silicon shank.

Utah-type microelectrode arrays

Microelectrode arrays of silicon shanks (usually 10 × 10) with recording sites located only at the tip of each silicon shank.

Local field potentials

(LFPs). Extracellular electric field oscillations in the 0–100 Hz frequency band that mainly arise from collective transmembrane ionic currents and act as a medium for network-level communication.

Fourier transform

A mathematical method that decomposes a waveform (for example, the neural recording trace), which is usually a function of time, into the frequencies that make it up.


A visual representation of frequencies of time-varying neural signals in a spectrum. A spectrogram is generated after performing Fourier transform of the neural recording trace.


Semiconductor devices that can be used to switch or amplify electronic signals and thus act as basic building blocks of integrated circuits in modern electronic devices.


Effective resistance of an electrical circuit to current when an oscillating voltage is applied. It has the same Ohm units as resistance but applies to AC circuits.


Separate paths in neural probes in which electrical, optical and chemical signals can flow to measure or modulate neural activity in an independently addressable manner.


Number of independent channels in a given neural probe. The multiplexity of a neural probe represents the information throughput at the brain–probe interface.

Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor

(CMOS). A technology with design style that uses complementary pairs of p-type and n-type metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistors for low-energy-cost logical functions in integrated circuits.

Young’s modulus

An intrinsic material property that measures the ability of a material to resist its change (increase or decrease) in length under tensile or compressive forces.


Fast and synchronous oscillatory pattern of the local field potential in the CA1 pyramidal layer of the hippocampus, usually in the frequency range of 100–200 Hz.

Photovoltaic effect

A process that generates voltage or electric current in a material upon exposure to light. Not to be confused with photoelectric effect, in which electrons are ejected from the material.

Field-effect transistors

(FETs). Three-terminal semiconductor devices in which the current flow (output) between the source and drain electrodes is modulated by the voltage (input) at the gate electrode.

Bending stiffness

The measure of the ability of a structure to resist bending deformation to applied force. It depends on the Young’s modulus of the material and the geometrical features of the structure.

Spike train cross-correlations

Pairwise comparisons of spike trains that reveal the latency in firing activity and potential monosynaptic excitatory or inhibitory interactions between two neurons.

Principal component analysis

(PCA). A statistical procedure to reduce the dimensionality and extract features of the extracellular spike waveform, thus assigning spikes to different neurons on the basis of waveform difference.

Thermal drawing process

A process commonly used in optical fibre production whereby macroscopic materials are heated and stretched to wires and sheets with greatly reduced thickness.

Closed-loop feedback

Electrical, optical and biochemical input to the nervous system that is adjusted by and used to control the measured output of neural activity.

Photonic integrated circuits

Optical counterparts of electronic integrated circuits, in which multiple photonic devices with distinct functions are integrated in the same circuitry.

Deep reactive ion etching

(DRIE). A type of reactive ion etching process used to create sharp-edged holes and trenches in the substrate usually with high anisotropy and high aspect ratio.


The acute episode during which an epileptic seizure occurs. The ictal period features abnormal bursts of electrical impulses in the brain and loss of consciousness.

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Hong, G., Lieber, C.M. Novel electrode technologies for neural recordings. Nat Rev Neurosci 20, 330–345 (2019).

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