Front Neurosci. 2022 Jun 13;16:908858. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2022.908858. eCollection 2022.
Intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) of the somatosensory cortex (S1) can restore sensory function in patients with paralysis. Studies assessing the stability of ICMS have reported heterogeneous responses across electrodes and over time, potentially hindering the implementation and translatability of these technologies. The foreign body response (FBR) and the encapsulating glial scar have been associated with a decay in chronic performance of implanted electrodes. Moreover, the morphology, intrinsic properties, and function of cells vary across cortical layers, each potentially affecting the sensitivity to ICMS as well as the degree of the FBR across cortical depth. However, layer-by-layer comparisons of the long-term stability of ICMS as well as the extent of the astrocytic glial scar change across cortical layers have not been well explored. Here, we implanted silicon microelectrodes with electrode sites spanning all the layers of S1 in rats. Using a behavioral paradigm, we obtained ICMS detection thresholds from all cortical layers for up to 40 weeks. Our results showed that the sensitivity and long-term performance of ICMS is indeed layer dependent. Overall, detection thresholds decreased during the first 7 weeks post-implantation (WPI). This was followed by a period in which thresholds remained stable or increased depending on the interfacing layer: thresholds in L1 and L6 exhibited the most consistent increases over time, while those in L4 and L5 remained the most stable. Furthermore, histological investigation of the tissue surrounding the electrode showed a biological response of microglia and macrophages which peaked at L1, while the area of the astrocytic glial scar peaked at L2/3. Interestingly, the biological response of these FBR markers is less exacerbated at L4 and L5, suggesting a potential link between the FBR and the long-term stability of ICMS. These findings suggest that interfacing depth can play an important role in the design of chronically stable implantable microelectrodes.