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Controlling network formation at the cellular level

Networks of neurons with controlled connectivity are needed for fundamental studies in neuronal signal processing and applications like neurodegeneration. This requires efficient, directed and long lasting control of axon and dendrites growths toward their targets. Best results so far could be achieved by microcontact printing of biomolecules. As an alternative, topographical cues can be employed to direct the neurite outgrowth via contact guidance.

Creating single cell connectivity

single cell connectivity

Single cell connectivity can be achieved by controlling the neurite outgrowth. One method is contact guidance, where neurons are grown on nanostructured substrates. Neurites can attach to the nanostructures and follow the topology.
Another method is using microcontact printing to transfer protein patterns via a micro-structured stamp onto a substrate. By carefully tailoring the pattern design, we can control the soma position as well as both the axonal and dendritic outgrowth and thus influence the directionality of the neuronal network.

Creating connectivity between populations of neurons

Creating connectivity between populations of neurons

A specific connectivity of small neuronal groups to other neuronal populations can be observed in several regions of the brain, such as e.g. the motor cortex or the hippocampus. Similar to the methodology utilized on the single-cell level, we employ microcontact printing to mimic this populational connectivity in vitro. By preparation of triangular protein patterns, we are able to create a directed neuronal network consisting of small groups of neurons of around 40 cells in each triangle, which are connected to the next population merely due to the contact of the tip of one triangle with the base of the next one. Functional activity and the directionality of the signaling was proven with calcium imaging.

Additional Information


Prof. Dr. Andreas Offenhäusser

Tel.:  +49-2461-61-2330

More Information


Effects of Morphology Constraint on Electrophysiological Properties of Cortical Neurons
Zhu et al., Scientific Reports 2016, 6:23086

Axon guidance of rat cortical neurons by microcontact printed gradients
Fricke et al., Biomaterials 2011, 32  

Microcontact Printing of Proteins for Neuronal Cell Guidance
Offenhäusser et al., Soft Matter 2007, 3, 290-298

Signal Propagation between Neuronal Populations Controlled by Micropatterning
Albers et al., Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 2016, 4, 46

Engineering connectivity by multiscale micropatterning of individual populations of neurons
Albers et al., Biotechnology journal 2015, 10(2), 332 - 338