Electric phenomena in brain tissue can be measured using extracellular potentials. The interpretation of these signals depend on the electric structure and properties of extacellular media. Some measurements point to a model where the extrace cellular medium is purely resistive.
Electric phenomena in brain tissue can be measured using extracellular potentials, such as the local field potential, or the electro-encephalogram. The interpretation of these signals depend on the electric structure and properties of extracellular media, but the measurements of these electric properties are subject to controversy. Some measurements point to a model where the extracellular medium is purely resistive, and thus parameters such as electric conductivity and permittivity should be independent of frequency. Other measurements point to a pronounced frequency dependence of these parameters, with scaling laws that are consistent with capacitive or diffusive effects. However, these experiments correspond to different preparations, and it is unclear how to correctly compare them. Here, we provide for the first time, impedance measurements in various preparations, for acute brain slices and primary cell cultures, and we compare to measurements using the same setup in artificial cerebrospinal fluid with no biological material. The measurements show that when the current flows across a cell membrane, the frequency dependence of the macroscopic impedance between intracellular and extracellular electrodes is significant, and cannot be captured by a model with resistive media. Fitting a mean-field model to the data shows that this frequency dependence could be explained by the ionic diffusion mainly associated to Debye layers surrounding the membranes. We conclude that neuronal membranes and their ionic environment induce strong deviations to resistivity, that should be taken into account to correctly interpret extracellular potentials generated by neurons.