Biocompatible reference electrodes to enhance chronic electrochemical signal fidelity in vivo

Blake T. Seaton, Michael L. Heien

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In vivo electrochemistry is a vital tool of neuroscience that allows for the detection, identification, and quantification of neurotransmitters, their metabolites, and other important analytes. One important goal of in vivo electrochemistry is a better understanding of progressive neurological disorders (e.g., Parkinson’s disease). A complete understanding of such disorders can only be achieved through a combination of acute (i.e., minutes to hours) and chronic (i.e., days or longer) experimentation. Chronic studies are more challenging because they require prolonged implantation of electrodes, which elicits an immune response, leading to glial encapsulation of the electrodes and altered electrode performance (i.e., biofouling). Biofouling leads to increased electrode impedance and reference electrode polarization, both of which diminish the selectivity and sensitivity of in vivo electrochemical measurements. The increased impedance factor has been successfully mitigated previously with the use of a counter electrode, but the challenge of reference electrode polarization remains. The commonly used Ag/AgCl reference electrode lacks the long-term potential stability in vivo required for chronic measurements. In addition, the cytotoxicity of Ag/AgCl adversely affects animal experimentation and prohibits implantation in humans, hindering translational research progress. Thus, a move toward biocompatible reference electrodes with superior chronic potential stability is necessary. Two qualifying materials, iridium oxide and boron-doped diamond, are introduced and discussed in terms of their electrochemical properties, biocompatibilities, fabrication methods, and applications. In vivo electrochemistry continues to advance toward more chronic experimentation in both animal models and humans, necessitating the utilization of biocompatible reference electrodes that should provide superior potential stability and allow for unprecedented chronic signal fidelity when used with a counter electrode for impedance mitigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6689-6701
Number of pages13
JournalAnalytical and bioanalytical chemistry
Issue number27
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Biofouling
  • Boron-doped diamond
  • In vivo electrochemistry
  • Iridium oxide
  • Reference electrodes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry


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