An in vitro model for investigating impedance changes with cell growth and electrical stimulation

implications for cochlear implants

Carrie Newbold*, Rachael Richardson, Christie Q. Huang, Dusan Milojevic, Robert Cowan, Robert Shepherd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

59 Citations (Scopus)


The impedance of stimulating electrodes used in cochlear implants and other neural prostheses often increases post-implantation, and is thought to be due to fibrous tissue encapsulation of the electrode array. Increased impedance results in higher power requirements to stimulate target neurons at set charge densities. We developed an in vitro model to investigate the electrode-tissue interface in a highly controlled environment. This model was tested using three cell types, with and without charge-balanced biphasic electrical stimulation. Under standard tissue culture conditions, a monolayer of cells was grown over the electrode surface. Electrode impedance increased in proportion to the extent of cell coverage of the electrode. Cell type was a significant factor in the amount of impedance increase, with kidney epithelial cells (MDCK) creating the greatest impedance, followed by dissociated rat skin fibroblasts and then macrophages (J774). The application of electrical stimulation to cell-covered electrodes caused impedance fluctuations similar to that seen in vivo, with a lowering of impedance immediately following stimulation, and a recovery to pre-stimulation levels during inactive periods. Examination of these electrodes suggests that the stimulation-induced impedance changes were due to the amount of cell cover over the electrodes. This in vitro technique accurately models the changes in impedance observed with neural prostheses in vivo, and shows the close relationship between impedance and tissue coverage adjacent to the electrode surface. We believe that this in vitro approach holds great promise to further our knowledge of the mechanisms contributing to electrode impedance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-227
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes

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