Neuromorphic Neural Interfaces: From Neurophysiological Inspiration to Biohybrid Coupling with Nervous Systems
Computation in nervous systems operates with different computational primitives, and on different hardware, than traditional digital computation and is thus subjected to different constraints from its digital counterpart regarding the use of physical resources such as time, space and energy. In an effort to better understand neural computation on a physical medium with similar spatiotemporal and energetic constraints, the field of neuromorphic engineering aims to design and implement electronic systems that emulate in very large-scale integration (VLSI) hardware the organization and functions of neural systems at multiple levels of biological organization, from individual neurons up to large circuits and networks. Mixed analog/digital neuromorphic VLSI systems are compact, consume little power and operate in real time independently of the size and complexity of the model. Approach. This article highlights the current efforts to interface neuromorphic systems with neural systems at multiple levels of biological organization, from the synaptic to the system level, and discusses the prospects for future biohybrid systems with neuromorphic circuits of greater complexity.
Main results. Single silicon neurons have been interfaced successfully with invertebrate and vertebrate neural networks. This approach allowed the investigation of neural properties that are inaccessible with traditional techniques while providing a realistic biological context not achievable with traditional numerical modeling methods. At the network level, populations
of neurons are envisioned to communicate bidirectionally with neuromorphic processors of hundreds or thousands of silicon neurons. Recent work on brain–machine interfaces suggests that this is feasible with current neuromorphic technology.
Significance. Biohybrid interfaces between biological neurons and VLSI neuromorphic systems of varying complexity have
started to emerge in the literature. Primarily intended as a computational tool for investigating fundamental questions related to neural dynamics, the sophistication of current neuromorphic systems now allows direct interfaces with large neuronal networks and circuits, resulting in potentially interesting clinical applications for neuroengineering systems, neuroprosthetics and neurorehabilitation.