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July 28, 2017

Cells of cortex express light-driven ion pump halorhodopsin.

Optogenetics is a revolutionary new research technique that enables scientists to use light to precisely control the activity of neurons in the brain. In optogenetics, light-sensitive ion channels and pumps, known as microbial opsins, are genetically targeted to specific cells, so that upon light delivery, just those cells will be electrically activated or silenced. In this image, the cells of the cortex are expressing the light-driven ion pump halorhodopsin. Upon illumination of the cortex, the cells are electrically quieted. Such technologies could be used to investigate what behaviors or brain functions a given set of cells is necessary for, or alternatively to, quiet overactive neurons such as in the context of a seizure.

This research was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award (CBET 1053233), and by NSF grants EFRI 0835878, DMS 0848804 (a Small Grant for Exploratory Research) and DMS 1042134, which funded the development of optogenetics tools and their applications.

To learn more about this research, see the NSF Discovery story Critical tool for brain research derived from 'pond scum or New Technique Opens Window Into Brain Research.

Credit: Ed Boyden and Massachusetts Institute of Technology McGovern Institute

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