Infrared neural stimulation (INS) is a neurostimulation modality that uses pulsed infrared light to evoke artifact-free, spatially precise neural activity with a noncontact interface; however, the technique has not been demonstrated in humans. The objective of this study is to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of INS in humans in vivo. The feasibility of INS in humans was assessed in patients (n=7) undergoing selective dorsal root rhizotomy, where hyperactive dorsal roots, identified for transection, were stimulated in vivo with INS on two to three sites per nerve with electromyogram recordings acquired throughout the stimulation. The stimulated dorsal root was removed and histology was performed to determine thermal damage thresholds of INS. Threshold activation of human dorsal rootlets occurred in 63% of nerves for radiant exposures between 0.53 and 1.23 J/cm2. In all cases, only one or two monitored muscle groups were activated from INS stimulation of a hyperactive spinal root identified by electrical stimulation. Thermal damage was first noted at 1.09 J/cm2 and a 2∶1 safety ratio was identified. These findings demonstrate the success of INS as a fresh approach for activating human nerves in vivo and providing the necessary safety data needed to pursue clinically driven therapeutic and diagnostic applications of INS in humans.
Low-intensity, pulsed infrared light provides a novel nerve stimulation modality that avoids the limitations of traditional electrical methods such as necessity of contact, presence of a stimulation artifact, and relatively poor spatial precision. Infrared neural stimulation (INS) is, however, limited by a 2:1 ratio of threshold radiant exposures for damage to that for stimulation. We have shown that this ratio is increased to nearly 6:1 by combining the infrared pulse with a subthreshold electrical stimulus. Our results indicate a nonlinear relationship between the subthreshold depolarizing electrical stimulus and additional optical energy required to reach stimulation threshold. The change in optical threshold decreases linearly as the delay between the electrical and optical pulses is increased. We have shown that the high spatial precision of INS is maintained for this combined stimulation modality. Results of this study will facilitate the development of applications for infrared neural stimulation, as well as target the efforts to uncover the mechanism by which infrared light activates neural tissue.