A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control of Freely-Behaving Animals

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Wentz, C. T., Bernstein, J. G., Monahan, P., Guerra, A., Rodriguez, A., Boyden, E. S. (2011) A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control of Freely-Behaving Animals, Journal of Neural Engineering 8(4):046021.

Optogenetics, the ability to use light to activate and silence specific neuron types within neural networks in vivo and in vitro, is revolutionizing neuroscientists’ capacity to understand how defined neural circuit elements contribute to normal and pathological brain functions. Typically, awake behaving experiments are conducted by inserting an optical fiber into the brain, tethered to a remote laser, or by utilizing an implanted light-emitting diode (LED), tethered to a remote power source. A fully wireless system would enable chronic or longitudinal experiments where long duration tethering is impractical, and would also support high-throughput experimentation. However, the high power requirements of light sources (LEDs, lasers), especially in the context of the extended illumination periods often desired in experiments, precludes battery-powered approaches from being widely applicable. We have developed a headborne device weighing 2 g capable of wirelessly receiving power using a resonant RF power link and storing the energy in an adaptive supercapacitor circuit, which can algorithmically control one or more headborne LEDs via a microcontroller. The device can deliver approximately 2 W of power to the LEDs in steady state, and 4.3 W in bursts. We also present an optional radio transceiver module (1 g) which, when added to the base headborne device, enables real-time updating of light delivery protocols; dozens of devices can be controlled simultaneously from one computer. We demonstrate use of the technology to wirelessly drive cortical control of movement in mice. These devices may serve as prototypes for clinical ultra-precise neural prosthetics that use light as the modality of biological control.