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Isolated Stimulation Explained

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2013

Isolated Stimulation and Stimulus Isolators

The term stimulation refers to the delivery of energy of some kind to a biological tissue in order to elicit an observable response.

Although the energy used in stimulation may be chemical, thermal, mechanical or electrical, this discussion will focus on electrical stimulation. Electrical stimulation of biological tissues involves the delivery of current and voltage to the stimulation site. The two quantities are related by Ohm's law:

 

V=IR

Where V is the applied voltage, I is the current and R is the electrical resistance of the tissue and or the stimulating electrodes. This simple equation shows that if voltage is constant, current flow will diminish if the tissue/electrode resistance goes up, and will increase if the resistance decreases.

More commonly, the resistance of tissue differs from sample to sample, and the resistance of the electrodes changes with applied current over time in a process called polarization.

 

Types of Stimulus Devices

Constant Voltage Stimulators - In the delivery of electrical energy to biological tissues, stimulus devices can hold either current or voltage constant during the stimulating process. Devices that hold voltage constant at a value set by the user and allow current to be determined by Ohm's law are known as constant voltage stimulators.

Constant Current Stimulators - Devices that hold current constant at a value set by the user during the stimulation process and allow voltage to be determined by Ohm's law are called constant current stimulators.

Constant current stimulators are preferred for two reasons:

  • First, current is the quantity that stimulates most excitable tissues.
  • Second, stimulating electrodes tend to increase their resistance as stimulation progresses, as do some tissues. A constant current stimulator will "sense" resistance change and provide whatever voltage is needed to maintain delivery of current at the set rate.

There is obviously a limit to how much voltage a constant current stimulator can provide. If the resistance of the preparation becomes infinite, as might happen if one of the stimulating electrodes is removed from the tissue, the stimulator could not mount an infinite voltage to compensate.

The maximum amount of voltage that a constant current stimulator can provide is called the compliance voltage. Once this compliance voltage has been reached, further increases in tissue resistance will cause a drop in delivered current.

WPI isolators in the 300 and DLS series offer a compliance voltage of 100V with very low noise. Stimulus isolators, as the name implies, also isolate a given stimulus from ground. In an instrument design context most people think of isolation from ground as it relates to electrical safety. From a biological recording standpoint there are other issues. Consider the circuit in Figure 1.

Isolated

 

The stimulator in this case is a battery with a switch; current leaves the positive terminal of the battery, travels down the stimulating lead, passes through the tissue, and 100% of the current delivered returns to the negative terminal of the battery. This figure also shows a volt meter in the preparation.

Voltages generated by the tissue as a consequence of the stimulus are recorded with respect to the volt meter's ground electrode.

 isolated

 

In Figure 2 the battery is replaced with a line powered stimulator. Even though the stimulus source and the volt meter have separate ground electrodes, they represent the same electrical point. For this reason a significant portion of the stimulus current returns to ground by way of the voltmeter's ground lead.

DC Artifact - If the currents are significant, or the voltages that you are trying to measure are very small, the I x R drop across the resistance of the volt meter's ground electrode will add to the recorded voltage from the tissue and will be seen as a DC artifact.

AC Artifact - Capacitative coupling between the voltmeter circuit and the isolated circuit can induce current to flow in the volt meter ground. The induced current will transiently flow across the resistance of the volt meter ground, and its I x R drop will be seen as a transient spike in front of and behind any pulse of current delivered by the current source. This is termed an AC artifact.

The primary reason why researchers use an isolated current source is to minimize artifact. But, what if you are not recording? There is no volt meter ground to produce an observable artifact. If you stop and consider the examples above, the artifact was minimized or eliminated by controlling the path of the stimulus current.


Isolated Stimulation / Stimulus Isolators

Knowing the current path can be critical in physiological stimulation. Consider the current path in Figure 3. The animal represented by the badly drawn cat is secured in a stereotaxic frame.

The frame is grounded. The animal contacts the frame at multiple points. Figure 3 shows the battery and switch model of a stimulator. Here, as before, all of the current that leaves the positive side of the battery must return to the negative side. 100% of the stimulus current must pass between the stimulus electrodes. In this case the path as well as the exact amount of current delivered is known.

isolated

Figure 4 shows the same experimental setup except the battery has been replaced by a line powered voltage source. Stimulus current now returns to ground via many routes. The amount of current that flows to ground is determined by the resistance between the source and each of the ground points and is calculated as a resistive network using Kirtchoff's laws. Many unintended areas of the animal may be stimulated.

In the real world we cannot use a battery and a switch, particularly if the current durations are on the order of milliseconds. Electronic devices such as pulse generators and computers are used to generate timing, and isolators driven by these devices are used to deliver the stimulus.

By connecting an isolator (even a battery powered one) to a mains powered pulse generator, you connect the isolated ground of the isolator to the mains ground of the pulse generator. Unless the electrical connection between the two devices is accomplished without using a mechanical connection between the two devices, you break the isolation.

isolated

This is what makes an isolator an isolator. The non-mechanical contact between machines that constitutes the isolation barrier can be accomplished in one of two ways.

  • Originally, isolators were transformer isolated. Pulse waves were applied to the primary winding of a transformer, while the actual stimulus was derived from the secondary winding. The transference was accomplished by induction. This approach suffered from two shortcomings. The devices could not pass DC, so no constant voltage isolated stimulations could be made. The transformer approach also has intrinsically higher capacitance. This means that while the resistance between the primary and secondary coils is very high, the high capacitance  produces an AC artifact that is unacceptably large compared to other isolation techniques.
  • Optical isolation is the second popular scheme. The field has all but standardized on this. In simple terms, the input pulse wave powers a light that shines across the barrier onto a photocell that produces the stimulus wave. There have been countless variations on this theme, and it is used for isolating recording amplifiers, as well as stimulators.

WPI's Isolators (All are Optical)

DLS Series

DLS100


WPI's digital stimulator, DS8000 has advanced features and specifications that are not found in any other digital stimulator.

The DLS100 is a revolutionary new breed of digital linear isolators with high compliance and high isolation. The DLS100 is preferentially optimized for applications with the DS8000 via a flexible cable through which it receives power and stimulus signals in a digital format. Up to eight DLS100 isolators can be connected independently to one DS8000 . Very high isolation is achieved through the use of optical coupling of the digital signal and a galvanically isolated DC power supply within the DLS100.

Unlike some other multi-channel isolators, this digital isolator can be located at the site of the experiment, allowing the use of short connecting leads and thereby preserving high isolation and fast signal rise and fall times.

The DLS100 operates in two modes: current source or voltage source. In the current/voltage source mode, the output current/voltage is proportional to the amplitude and polarity of the signal generated bythe DS8000 . Over-range can occur when the resistance of the load (the experiment) is too high for the current or voltage that is demanded fromthe DLS100.

 

DLS100 Specifications
Current Source Mode
Full-scale* Current 10 mA, 100 µA, 10 µA, bipolar
Compliance Voltage ± 100 volts
Output Impedance Greater than 100 Megohms
Zero-signal Leakage Less than 0.01% of full-scale range setting
Linearity Better than 0.05% of full-scale range setting
Bandwidth Range and load dependant: 20 kHz with 10K load and 100 µA or above range.**
Voltage Source Mode
Full-scale* Voltage ± 100 volts
Max. Current 1o mA
Output Impedance Less than 1 ohm
Zero-signal leakage Less than 1 mV
Linearity Better than 0.05% of full-scale range setting
Bandwidth 50 kHz
Isolation
Resistance Greater than 1000 Megohms
Capacitance Less than 10 pF, from output terminals to DS8000 and earth ground
Power Requirements + 12 volts and +5 volts, supplied by DS8000
Output Terminals Mini-banana jacks


Activated by conventional logic-level commands, Model A365 can be gated by any pulse generator, stimulator or computer output. A tone sounds when an Isolated Stimulationopen electrode circuit is detected or when system compliance is reached. A second optional tone sounds when a signal is applied to the input. A test switch is also provided to check battery charge. Stimulus currents are set using a three-digit control knob and a three-position range switch. Output current tracks control set­tings to better than 1%. Output current is load independent; voltage sufficient to push the desired current through the load is automatically developed, subject only to compliance limits. Model A365 produces up to 10 milliampere current, in three ranges, at more than 100V compliance. Output polarity is determined by a three-position switch on the front panel (+/-/off). Bipolar current is toggled by the command waveform, setting alternating pulses as positive or negative. The rechargeable A365R is supplied with a nickel metal hydride battery stack. The A362 Battery Charger is required with the A365R.

 

OUTPUT WAVEFORM DC or current pulse
OUTPUT CURRENT RANGES 0.1, 1.0, and 10mA
CURRENT AMPLITUDE ERROR 0.5% of full scale, max.
CURRENT RESOLUTION 0.1% of full scale, typical
OUTPUT LOAD VOLTAGE EXCURSION (COMPLIANCE) 100V
EXTERNAL COMMAND THRESHOLD 2.2V at 2.6mA, min. 8.5V, max.
OUTPUT POLARITY Reversible, manual switch or automatic
CURRENT RISE TIME & DELAY 6μs, typical (1KΩ load)
CURRENT FALL TIME & DELAY 10μs, typical (1KΩ load)
OUTPUT TO GROUND RESISTANCE 1012Ω
OPTOCOUPLER 2500V, rated min. breakdown voltage
POWER: Model A365D (dry cell) 16 alkaline 9V batteries, included
POWER: Model A365R (rechargeable) 16 rechargeable NiMH 9V batteries incl.
DIMENSIONS 8.5 x 3.5 x 5 in. (22 x 9 x 12 cm)
SHIPPING WEIGHT 4 lb. (1.8 kg)

 

Isostim™ Stimulator/Isolator can now come with NiMH batteries in a rechargeable version. It combines the ease of use and accuracy of WPI's 300 Series stimulators with the power output of a stimulus isolator. External/DC mode converts Isostim™ to a passive stimulus isolator.

The A320D model is powered by readily obtainable 9-volt alkaline batteries (included). The rechargeable A320R is supplied with a nickel cadmium battery stack that provides 10-12 hours of operation before recharge is required. The A362 battery charger must be used with the A320R.

WPI also offers high current stimulus isolator, which combines optical isolation with a ±100 mA current generator. A365 model delivers positive, negative or bipolar currents. The input connector is a standard BNC, allowing signals from any source - such as computer D/A orI/O lines - to be used.

A385 rechargeable version is not appropriate for transcutaneous stimulation, and the A382 system charger must recharge the batteries. Indicator lights and audible alarms keep the user constantly aware of battery charge status.

WPI's linear stimulus isolator model A395, also available in rechargeable version will replicate a programmed waveform of any shape or polarity. Battery operated, and photoelectrically-isolated from the input voltage drive, the instrument regenerates as output currents the original waveforms provided by your D/A converter or signal generator.

 

OUTPUT WAVEFORM DC or current pulse
OUTPUT CURRENT RANGES 0.1, 1.0, and 10mA
CURRENT AMPLITUDE ERROR 0.5% of full scale, max.
CURRENT RESOLUTION 0.1% of full scale, typical
OUTPUT LOAD VOLTAGE EXCURSION (COMPLIANCE) 100V
EXTERNAL COMMAND THRESHOLD 2.2V at 2.6mA, min. 8.5V, max.
OUTPUT POLARITY Reversible, manual switch or automatic
CURRENT RISE TIME & DELAY 6μs, typical (1KΩ load)
CURRENT FALL TIME & DELAY 10μs, typical (1KΩ load)
OUTPUT TO GROUND RESISTANCE 1012Ω
OPTOCOUPLER 2500V, rated min. breakdown voltage
POWER: Model A365D (dry cell) 16 alkaline 9V batteries, included
POWER: Model A365R (rechargeable) 16 rechargeable NiMH 9V batteries incl.
DIMENSIONS 8.5 x 3.5 x 5 in. (22 x 9 x 12 cm)
SHIPPING WEIGHT 4 lb. (1.8 kg)

 

See Selection


If you need help in choosing a system for your applications, contact the WPI technical support team at 866.606.1974 or customerservice@wpiinc.com. WPI has been serving scientist since 1967.