News Release

Zapping the right brain cells: The path to improved stimulation

New findings could help scientists develop better ways to treat brain disorders with electrical stimulation

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Allen Institute

Octo-patch rig


The octo-patch rig is a specialized microscope allowing neuroscientists to record electrical properties from and map connections between up to eight neurons simultaneously.

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Credit: Credit: Steven Hurd/Allen Institute

By Jake Siegel

SEATTLE, WASH.June 4, 2024—New research by scientists at the Allen Institute’s Brain and Consciousness group and Cedars-Sinai offers an unprecedented look at how neurons respond to ES. Far from being uniform, different types of neurons showed distinct patterns of ‘syncing up’ with electrical fields. These patterns varied depending on the rate at which the ES was delivered.

The findings, published today in Neuron, could help doctors fine tune where, when, and how to apply ES to the brain, said Soo Yeun Lee, Ph.D., the paper’s first author and a Senior Scientist at the Allen Institute.

“With this study, we now have a much better idea of what types of stimulation work for specific cell classes,” she said. “We can use that knowledge to develop more efficient ways of using electrical stimulation to treat disorders.”

Using tissue samples from mice and humans, the research team delivered oscillating waves of ES within tens of micrometers of individual neurons. This extraordinary precision enabled an unprecedented look at electrical stimulation’s impact at a single-cell level. They observed strong, cell-class-specific responses. Excitatory neurons synchronized firing with both slow and fast stimulation frequencies, while inhibitory neurons primarily responded to fast frequencies.

These class-specific responses are significant, Lee said, because they reveal that adjusting the stimulation frequency allows for the selective targeting of different neurons. That discovery could lead to more precise therapies to modulate neural activity.

For example, inhibitory neurons that express a protein called parvalbumin are implicated in epilepsy and in cognitive dysfunctions, she noted. This study shows that these cell classes are most responsive to certain frequencies. Future treatments could tailor ES to the most effective frequency, potentially improving outcomes and limiting side effects.

Beyond its clinical implications, the study also revealed a universal truth about how neurons function, Lee added. Regardless of cell class, cortical areas, or species, neurons exhibit a remarkable ability to synchronize with an external electric field.

This general property is superimposed on the brain’s dazzling cellular diversity, Lee said—and the newfound understanding of these underlying mechanisms could transform our approach to treating complex brain disorders.


Research described in this article was supported by award numbers R01NS120300 and R01NS130126 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIH and its subsidiary institutes.  

About the Allen Institute
The Allen Institute is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization founded by philanthropist and visionary, the late Paul G. Allen. The Allen Institute is dedicated to answering some of the biggest questions in bioscience and accelerating research worldwide. The Institute is a recognized leader in large-scale research with a commitment to an open science model. Its research institutes and programs include the Allen Institute for Brain Science, launched in 2003; the Allen Institute for Cell Science, launched in 2014; the Allen Institute for Immunology, launched in 2018; and the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics, launched in 2021. In 2016, the Allen Institute expanded its reach with the launch of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which identifies pioneers with new ideas to expand the boundaries of knowledge and make the world better. For more information, visit

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