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Press Release 10-001

Silencing Brain Cells with Yellow and Blue Light

New tools use light to turn off brain cells and possibly treat brain disorders

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Image showing how abnormally active brain cells are turned off using multiple colors of light.

Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., recently developed a way to turn off abnormally active brain cells using multiple colors of light. This research could prove useful for managing disorders including chronic pain, epilepsy, brain injury and Parkinson's disease.

The brain mapping in this image represents collaboration between neuroscientists and experts in math, statistics, computer science, bioinformatics, imaging and nanotechnology.

Credit: Arthur Toga, Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Department of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine


Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (603 KB)

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Associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Edward Boyden describes how shutting off neurons in the brain could benefit research into epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.

Credit: MIT/National Science Foundation

 

Edward Boyden discusses the search for safe, light-reactive organisms and how these electricity producers can be used to shut down brain cells.

Credit: MIT/National Science Foundation

 

Edward Boyden discusses two molecules nicknamed Arch and Mac that are basically light-activated proteins used to shut down brain cells.

Credit: MIT/National Science Foundation

 

Edward Boyden describes how a harmless virus helps researchers bestow upon neurons the same photosynthetic properties of the Arch and Mac proteins with which they are injected.

Credit: MIT/National Science Foundation

 

Boyden discusses the next phase of the research.

Credit: MIT/National Science Foundation

 

Image showing a mouse neuron taking on the characteristics of an Arch gene.

To test whether neurons could be turned off using specific proteins, MIT researchers inserted "Arch" and "Mac" genes into viruses. The viruses then inserted their genetic cargo into mouse neurons. Optical fibers attached to lasers flashed light onto the neurons, and electrodes measured the resulting neural activity. Here, a mouse neuron takes on the characteristics of an Arch gene.

Credit: Image courtesy Brian Chow, Xue Han, and Ed Boyden


Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (687 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.