Characteristics of laser stimulation by near infrared pulses of retinal and vestibular primary neurons


  • Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.

  • Fabrice Bardin and Michel Dumas contributed equally to this work.


Background and Objective

The optical stimulation of neurons from pulsed infrared lasers has appeared over the last years as an alternative to classical electric stimulations based on conventional electrodes. Laser stimulation could provide a better spatial selectivity allowing single-cell stimulation without prerequisite contact. In this work we present relevant physical characteristics of a non-lethal stimulation of cultured mouse vestibular and retinal ganglion neurons by single infrared laser pulses.

Study Design/Materials and Methods

Vestibular and retinal ganglion neurons were stimulated by a 100–400 mW pulsed laser diode beam (wavelengths at 1,470, 1,535, 1,875 nm) launched into a multimode optical fiber positioned at a few hundred micrometers away from the neurons. Ionic exchange measurements at the neuron membrane were achieved by whole-cell patch-clamp recordings. Stimulation and damage thresholds, duration and repetition rate of stimulation and temperature were investigated.


All three lasers induced safe and reproducible action potentials (APs) on both types of neurons. The radiant exposure thresholds required to elicit APs range from 15 ± 5 to 100 ± 5 J cm−2 depending on the laser power and on the pulse duration. The damage thresholds, observed by a vital dye, were significantly greater than the stimulation thresholds. In the pulse duration range of our study (2–30 milliseconds), similar effects were observed for the three lasers. Measurements of the local temperature of the neuron area show that radiant exposures required for reliable stimulations at various pulse durations or laser powers correspond to a temperature increase from 22°C (room temperature) to 55–60°C. Stimulations by laser pulses at repetition rate of 1, 2, and 10 Hz during 10 minutes confirmed that the neurons were not damaged and were able to survive such temperatures.


These results show that infrared laser radiations provide a possible way to safely stimulate retinal and vestibular ganglion neurons. A similar temperature threshold is required to trigger neurons independently of variable energy thresholds, suggesting that an absolute temperature is required. Lasers Surg. Med. 44: 736–745, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.