Externally applied electrical stimulation (ES) has been shown to enhance the nerve regeneration process and to influence the directionality of neurite outgrowth. In addition, the physical and chemical properties of the substrate used for nerve-cell regeneration is critical in fostering regeneration. Previously, we have shown that polyurea-crosslinked silica aerogels (PCSA) exert a positive influence on the extension of neurites by PC-12 cells, a cell-line model widely used to study neurite extension and electrical excitability. In this work, we have examined how an externally applied electric field (EF) influences the extension of neurites in PC-12 cells grown on two substrates: collagen-coated dishes versus collagen-coated crosslinked silica aerogels. The externally applied direct current (DC) bias was applied in vitro using a custom-designed chamber containing polydimethysiloxane (PDMS) embedded copper electrodes to create an electric field across the substrate for the cultured PC-12 cells. Results suggest orientation preference towards the anode, and, on average, longer neurites in the presence of the applied DC bias than with 0 V DC bias. In addition, neurite length was increased in cells grown on silica-crosslinked aerogel when compared to cells grown on regular petri-dishes. These results further support the notion that PCSA is a promising material for nerve regeneration.
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