Extracellular and intracellular components of the impedance of neural tissue.

Claude Bedard, Charlotte Piette, Laurent Venance and Alain Destexhe
bioRxiv preprint: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.05.455210v1

Copy of the full paper (PDF)


Electric phenomena in brain tissue can be measured using extracellular potentials, such as the local field potential, or the electro-encephalogram. The interpretation of these signals depend on the electric structure and properties of extracellular media, but the measurements of these electric properties are subject to controversy. Some measurements point to a model where the extracellular medium is purely resistive, and thus parameters such as electric conductivity and permittivity should be independent of frequency. Other measurements point to a pronounced frequency de-pendence of these parameters, with scaling laws that are consistent with capacitive or diffusive effects. However, these experiments correspond to different preparations, and it is unclear how to correctly compare them. Here, we provide for the first time, impedance measurements in various preparations, for acute brain slices and primary cell cultures, and we compare to measurements using the same setup in artificial cerebrospinal fluid with no biological material. The measurements show that when the current flows across a cell membrane, the frequency dependence of the macroscopic impedance between intracellular and extracellular electrodes is significant, and cannot be captured by a model with resistive media. Fitting a mean-field model to the data shows that this frequency dependence could be explained by the ionic diffusion mainly associated to Debye layers surrounding the membranes. We conclude that neuronal membranes and their ionic environment induce strong deviations to resistivity, that should be taken into account to correctly interpret extracellular potentials generated by neurons.


The electro-encephalogram recorded at the scalp surface and local-field potentials recorded within neural tissue are generated by electric currents in neurons, and thus depend on the impedance of neural tissue. Different measured values were proposed, and it is currently unclear what is the real impedance of neural tissue. Here, we show that the impedance depends on the measurement technique. If the measurement is exclusively extracellular, the system appears as equivalent to a simple resistor. However, if the measurement includes an intracellular electrode, a more complex impedance is observed, because the current has to flow through the membrane, as happening in the brain. Thus, we provide an explanation for apparent disagreements, and indicate in which cases each impedance should be used.
return to publication list
return to main page