Advances in the design and synthesis of nanomaterials with desired biophysicochemical properties can be harnessed to develop non-invasive neuromodulation technologies. Here, the reversible modulation of the electrical activity of neurons and cardiomyocytes is demonstrated using polydopamine (PDA) nanoparticles as photothermal nanotransducers. In addition to their broad light absorption and excellent photothermal activity, PDA nanoparticles are highly biocompatible and biodegradable, making them excellent candidates for both in vitro and in vivo applications. The modulation of the activity (i.e., spike rate of the neurons and beating rate of cardiomyocytes) of excitable cells can be finely controlled by varying the excitation power density and irradiation duration. Under optimal conditions, reversible suppression (≈100%) of neural activity and reversible enhancement (two-fold) in the beating rate of cardiomyocytes is demonstrated. To improve the ease of interfacing of photothermal transducers with these excitable cells and enable spatial localization of the photothermal stimulus, a collagen/PDA nanoparticle foam is realized, which can be used as an “add-on patch” for photothermal stimulation. The non-genetic optical neuromodulation approach using biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticles represents a minimally invasive method for controlling the activity of excitable cells with potential applications in nano-neuroscience and engineering.
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