A flexible carbon nanotube electrode array for acute in vivo EMG recordings

Andrea R Pack, Jiaxi S Yan, Matteo Pasquali, Samuel J Sober, Coen P H Elemans

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Executing complex behaviors requires precise control of muscle activity. Our understanding of how the nervous system learns and controls motor skills relies on recording electromyographic (EMG) signals from multiple muscles that are engaged in the motor task. Despite recent advances in tools for monitoring and manipulating neural activity, methods for recording in situ spiking activity in muscle fibers have changed little in recent decades. Here, we introduce a novel experimental approach to recording high-resolution EMG signals using parylene-coated carbon nanotube fibers (CNTFs). These fibers are fabricated via a wet spinning process and twisted together to create a bipolar electrode. Single CNTFs are strong, extremely flexible, small in diameter (14-24 µm), and have low interface impedance. We present two designs to build bipolar electrode arrays that, due to the small size of CNTF, lead to high spatial resolution EMG recordings. To test the EMG arrays, we recorded the activity of small (4 mm length) vocal muscles in songbirds in an acute setting. CNTF arrays were more flexible and yielded multiunit/bulk EMG recordings with higher SNR compared with stainless steel wire electrodes. Furthermore, we were able to record single-unit recordings not previously reported in these small muscles. CNTF electrodes are therefore well-suited for high-resolution EMG recording in acute settings, and we present both opportunities and challenges for their application in long-term chronic recordings.NEW & NOTEWORTHY We introduce a novel approach to record high-resolution EMG signals in small muscles using extremely strong and flexible carbon nanotube fibers (CNTFs). We test their functionality in songbird vocal muscles. Acute EMG recordings successfully yielded multiunit recordings with high SNR. Furthermore, they successfully isolated single-unit spike trains from CNTF recordings. CNTF electrodes have great potential for chronic EMG studies of small, deep muscles that demand high electrode flexibility and strength.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)651-661
Publication statusPublished - 1. Mar 2023


  • carbon nanotube fibers
  • electromyography
  • motor systems
  • muscles
  • neurophysiology
  • Electrodes
  • Nanotubes, Carbon
  • Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor
  • Electromyography/methods
  • Muscles/physiology


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