January 2022 • 2022NatCo..13..493Y
Abstract • Ultrasonic neuromodulation has the unique potential to provide non-invasive control of neural activity in deep brain regions with high spatial precision and without chemical or genetic modification. However, the biomolecular and cellular mechanisms by which focused ultrasound excites mammalian neurons have remained unclear, posing significant challenges for the use of this technology in research and potential clinical applications. Here, we show that focused ultrasound excites primary murine cortical neurons in culture through a primarily mechanical mechanism mediated by specific calcium-selective mechanosensitive ion channels. The activation of these channels results in a gradual build-up of calcium, which is amplified by calcium- and voltage-gated channels, generating a burst firing response. Cavitation, temperature changes, large-scale deformation, and synaptic transmission are not required for this excitation to occur. Pharmacological and genetic inhibition of specific ion channels leads to reduced responses to ultrasound, while over-expressing these channels results in stronger ultrasonic stimulation. These findings provide a mechanistic explanation for the effect of ultrasound on neurons to facilitate the further development of ultrasonic neuromodulation and sonogenetics as tools for neuroscience research.