A.D. Dorval, D.J. Christini and J.A. White. Real-time LINUX dynamic clamp: a fast and flexible way to construct virtual ion channels in living cells (2001) Ann. Biomed. Eng., 29: 897–907.

We describe a system for real-time control of biological and other experiments. This device, based around the Real-Time Linux operating system, was tested specifically in the context of dynamic clamping, a demanding real-time task in which a computational system mimics the effects of nonlinear membrane conductances in living cells. The system is fast enough to represent dozens of nonlinear conductances in real time at clock rates well above 10 kHz. Conductances can be represented in deterministic form, or more accurately as discrete collections of stochastically gating ion channels. Tests were performed using a variety of complex models of nonlinear membrane mechanisms in excitable cells, including simulations of spatially extended excitable structures, and multiple interacting cells. Only in extreme cases does the computational load interfere with high-speed “hard” real-time processing (i.e., real-time processing that never falters). Freely available on the worldwide web, this experimental control system combines good performance. immense flexibility, low cost, and reasonable ease of use. It is easily adapted to any task involving real-time control, and excels in particular for applications requiring complex control algorithms that must operate at speeds over 1 kHz.