Neurotoxicology and Safety

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Neurotoxicity occurs when a substance alters neuronal function, leading to seizures, cognitive decline, loss of motor function, or behavioral disturbances. Toxic substances may subtly alter neuron and network function prior to or even in the absence of cell death.

The Maestro MEA system has the sensitivity to measure single neuron firing and the electrode density to capture network level activity. With built-in environmental controls and non-invasive measurements of function and viability, the Maestro is ideal for acute and chronic assessments of compound risk.

Measuring seizurogenic/proconvulsant risk

The Maestro Pro and Edge multiwell MEA platforms are an effective laboratory tool for high-throughput in vitro screens of neuroactive compounds (McConnell et al 2012, Valdivia et al 2014). Basic metrics, such as weighted mean firing rate, are sensitive to many neuroactive compounds, while advanced metrics, such as network bursting and synchrony, provide provide reliable identification of compounds that increase or suppress seizurogenic activity and, more broadly, affords discrimination between various compound classes. In the example below, 16 compounds were dosed sequentially with 6 replicates across 2 plates.

Comparison of network bursts under different drug conditions.


Network burst magnitude (number of spikes per burst) clearly discriminates proconvulsants, like picrotoxin, from the vehicle control.

Synchrony, as measured by the full width at half height of the cross correlogram (FWHH), differentiates proconvulsant compounds from other classes. Proconvulsant compounds exhibit increased synchrony, while antiepileptics exhibit decreased synchrony.

Neurotoxicology synchronicity data


Multiplex cell viability and activity in the same well

Neuroactive compounds may impact functional activity, cell health, or both. Without measures of cell viability, it is difficult to distinguish functional neurotoxins from cytotoxins.  With the Maestro you can assess both functional activity and cell viability on the same microelectrodes.

Learn more about MEA Viability.

Dosing neurons with neurotoxin - loss of activity but cells are still alive
Dosing neurons with cytotoxin - activity silenced and cells have died

Well A was dosed with a functional neurotoxin that silenced neural activity, but did not impact cell viability. Well B was dosed with a cytotoxin which killed them.

Assay Steps
Neurotox protocol

Getting started with Maestro Pro and Edge couldn't be easier. Culture your neurons in an Axion multiwell MEA plate (Day 0).  Load the MEA plate into the Maestro MEA system at the desired recording times and begin recording.  Analyze the neural activity in the MEA plate label-free and in real-time with AxIS Navigator Neural Module software.  Add test compounds as required (e.g. Day 7).

Learn how to add MEA Viability to your protocol

Read the Protocol


Click here to download the Axion BioSystems Neural Activity Brochure