Scientists Use a "Synaptor" to Link a Rat Neuron and a Silicon Neuron

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An international team of scientists from the University of Southampton, the University of Padova, and the University of Zurich has connected a silicon neuron to a neuron from the rat hippocampus with an artificial synapse, opening a door to one day linking artificial and biological brains. The experiment is detailed in the journal Scientific Reports.

There are more than 100 trillion synapses in the human brain. Their job is to mediate signals between neurons. In this experiment, the researchers used just two to link a neuron made of silicon with an embryonic neuron of the rat hippocampus grown in culture. The artificial synapses, which the scientists dubbed "synaptors", were each composed of a memristor with a metal-thin film titanium oxide microelectrode.

When the two neurons were linked by a synaptor, a firing of one neuron would lead to the firing of the other, forming a rudimentary brain circuit.

A sketch of the main components of the hybrid circuit and of the synaptors.

The researchers summed up the accomplishment and expounded upon its potential uses.

"Two different synaptors... enabled artificial-to-biological and biological-to-artificial communication by emulating two fundamental functions of the biological synapse: signal transmission and plasticity-mediated signal processing."

"Synaptors may be employed for adaptive bioelectronic control of autonomous reflexes (e.g. for therapy of heart arrhythmias, hypertension or bladder dysfunction by neurostimulation of the peripheral nervous system) or for therapy and rehabilitation in neurological patients (e.g. in spinal cord injury or Parkinson’s)."

Source: Serb, A., Corna, A., George, R. et al. Memristive synapses connect brain and silicon spiking neurons. Sci Rep 10, 2590 (2020).

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