Conjugated polymers for the optical control of the electrical activity of living cells†
The possibility to optically excite the electrical activity of living cells by using exogenous absorbers is gaining more and more interest in the neuroscience and biotechnology community. Conjugated polymers, inherently sensitive to visible light, were recently proposed as candidates to this goal. To date, however, only one polymer type, namely regio-regular poly-3-hexylthiophene, has been tested as the active material. In this work four different conjugated polymers, regarded as prototypes of their category, are investigated as photoactive bio-interfaces. The selected materials have different absorption spectra, morphology, light emission efficiency and charge transport properties. We analyze their key-enabling properties, such as electrochemical stability, surface morphology, wettability, sterilization compatibility, interaction with protein adhesion layers and toxicity, throughout all the necessary steps for the realization of an efficient bio-optical interface. We demonstrate that all considered polymers are characterized by good biocompatibility and cell seeding properties, and can optimally sustain thermal sterilization. Conversely, electrochemical stability and cell photostimulation efficacy can vary a lot among different materials, and should be carefully evaluated case by case. Reported results represent the starting point for the implementation of bio-polymer interfaces sensitive to different colors and, in perspective, for the realization of a three-chromatic artificial visual prosthesis.