Photo-Chemical Stimulation of Neurons with Organic Semiconductors

Achilleas Savva, Adel Hama, Gabriel Herrera-López, Tony Schmidt, Ludovico Migliaccio, Nadia Steiner, Malak Kawan, Hubert Fiumelli, Pierre J. Magistretti, Iain McCulloch, Derya Baran, Nicola Gasparini, Rainer Schindl, Eric Daniel Glowacki, Sahika Inal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent advances in light-responsive materials enabled the development of devices that can wirelessly activate tissue with light. Here it is shown that solution-processed organic heterojunctions can stimulate the activity of primary neurons at low intensities of light via photochemical reactions. The p-type semiconducting polymer PDCBT and the n-type semiconducting small molecule ITIC (a non-fullerene acceptor) are coated on glass supports, forming a p–n junction with high photosensitivity. Patch clamp measurements show that low-intensity white light is converted into a cue that triggers action potentials in primary cortical neurons. The study shows that neat organic semiconducting p–n bilayers can exchange photogenerated charges with oxygen and other chemical compounds in cell culture conditions. Through several controlled experimental conditions, photo-capacitive, photo-thermal, and direct hydrogen peroxide effects on neural function are excluded, with photochemical delivery being the possible mechanism. The profound advantages of low-intensity photo-chemical intervention with neuron electrophysiology pave the way for developing wireless light-based therapy based on emerging organic semiconductors.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdvanced Science
StatePublished - Sep 3 2023

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-09-07
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): ORA-2021-CRG10-4650, OSR-2018-CRG7-3709, CRG10- 4668
Acknowledgements: This publication is based upon work supported by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) under Award No. ORA-2021-CRG10-4650, CRG10- 4668, and OSR-2018-CRG7-3709. A.S. acknowledges funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant, MultiStem (No. 895801). E.D.G. acknowledges partial funding support from the European Research Council (ERC) grant agreement no. 949191. The authors thank Dr Marios Neophytou, Dr Akmaral Seitkhan, and Dr Joel Troughton for assistance in device fabrication and Sandeep Kumar Sharma for assistance with NMR analysis. The authors also thank Professor Thomas Anthopoulos, Professor Róisín M. Owens, Professor Martin Heeney and his research group in KAUST for fruitful discussions. Antonio García, the scientific illustrator at KAUST, created Figure 1.


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