Recording neural signals from delicate autonomic nerves is a challenging task that requires the development of a low-invasive neural interface with highly selective, micrometer-sized electrodes. This paper reports on the development of a three-dimensional (3D) protruding thin-film microelectrode array (MEA), which is intended to be used for recording low-amplitude neural signals from pelvic nervous structures by penetrating the nerves transversely to reduce the distance to the axons. Cylindrical gold pillars (Ø 20 or 50 µm, ~60 µm height) were fabricated on a micromachined polyimide substrate in an electroplating process. Their sidewalls were insulated with parylene C, and their tips were optionally modified by wet etching and/or the application of a titanium nitride (TiN) coating. The microelectrodes modified by these combined techniques exhibited low impedances (~7 kΩ at 1 kHz for Ø 50 µm microelectrode with the exposed surface area of ~5000 µm²) and low intrinsic noise levels. Their functionalities were evaluated in an ex vivo pilot study with mouse retinae, in which spontaneous neuronal spikes were recorded with amplitudes of up to 66 µV. This novel process strategy for fabricating flexible, 3D neural interfaces with low-impedance microelectrodes has the potential to selectively record neural signals from not only delicate structures such as retinal cells but also autonomic nerves with improved signal quality to study neural circuits and develop stimulation strategies in bioelectronic medicine, e.g., for the control of vital digestive functions.
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