Finite element analysis of the current-density and electric field generated by metal microelectrodes.
Electrical stimulation via implanted microelectrodes permits excitation of small, highly localized populations of neurons, and allows access to features of neuronal organization that are not accessible with larger electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain or spinal cord. As a result there are a wide range of potential applications for the use of microelectrodes in neural engineering. However, little is known about the current-density and electric field generated by microelectrodes. The objectives of this project were to answer three fundamental questions regarding electrical stimulation with metal microelectrodes using geometrically and electrically accurate finite elements models. First, what is the spatial distribution of the current density over the surface of the electrode? Second, how do alterations in the electrode geometry effect neural excitation? Third, under what conditions can an electrode of finite size be modeled as a point source? Analysis of the models showed that the current density was concentrated at the tip of the microelectrode and at the electrode-insulation interface. Changing the surface area of the electrode, radius of curvature of the electrode tip, or applying a resistive coating to the electrode surface altered the current-density distribution on the surface of the electrode. Changes in the electrode geometry had little effect on neural excitation patterns, and modeling the electric field generated by sharply tipped microelectrodes using a theoretical point source was valid for distances > approximately 50 microm from the electrode tip. The results of this study suggest that a nearly uniform current-density distribution along the surface of the electrode can be achieved using a relatively large surface area electrode (500-1000 microm2), with a relatively blunt tip (3-6 microm radius of curvature), in combination with a thin (approximately 1 microm) moderately resistive coating (approximately 50 omega m).
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