Using neuronal cultures on microelectrode arrays, researchers have shown that recordable electrical activity can be influenced by chemicals in the culture environment, thus demonstrating potential applicability to biosensors or drug screening. Since practical success requires the design of robust networks with repeatable, reliable responses understanding the sources of variation is important. In this report, we used lithographic technologies to confine neurons to highly defined patterns (40 microm wide stripes); in turn these patterns gave us a measure of control over the local density of neurons (100-500 cells/mm(2)). We found that the apparent electrical activity of the network, as measured by the fraction of electrodes from which signals were recordable, increases 8-10-fold with greater local density. Also, average-firing rates of the active neurons increased 3-5-fold. We conclude that patterned networks offer one means of controlling and enhancing the responsiveness of cultured neural networks.