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Researchers Discover Novel Light-Gated Potassium Channel in Neurons

Published in Brain/Neurology.

Summary: Researchers report they have identified the first natural light-gated potassium channel-rhodopsins.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine

A key approach to understanding the brain is to observe the behavioral effects of turning on specific populations of neurons. One of the most popular approaches to controlling neuronal activity in model systems is called optogenetics and depends on expressing microbial light-gated channels in the neurons of interest.

These channels work as light-responsive switches, turning on neurons with a flash of light, and have been available since 2005. A critical way to confirm the function of neuronal populations would be to repeat the experiment, but this time by turning off or silencing the same neuronal subpopulations. However, the neuroscience community lacked a fast and potent way to turn off or silence neurons—until now.

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston McGovern Medical School, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University and the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, have reported a new class of light-gated channels that promise to pave the way for rapid and efficient optical neuronal silencing.

Published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers describe how they identified the first natural light-gated potassium (kalium) channel-rhodopsins (KCRs).