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Optogenetics: Illuminating When Brain Cells Switch Off

Published in Optogenetics.

Scientists at Scripps Research Institute have created a groundbreaking method to track when brain cell activity decreases or switches off after a burst of activity using a combination of optogenetics and proteomics.

“Neuronal dynamics involve both the increase and decrease of activities; yet, for a long time, there have only been trackable histological markers for the former,” wrote corresponding author and neuroscientist Li Ye in collaboration with twenty co-authors.

Optogenetics is an innovative technique that combines optics with genetic engineering in order to control the activity of neurons with light activation. It is a method of activating brain cells or proteins by shining a light on photosensitive proteins.

The history of optogenetics is a modern one. Neuroscientist, molecular biologist and biophysicist Francis Crick (1916-2004), co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix structure, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962 and the Copley Medal in 1975, identified one of the top neuroscience challenges as the need to control specific classes of neurons without altering others. Crick subsequently put forth the notion that light might be a candidate control tool due to the ability to precisely administer timed pulses in contrast to electrical stimuli via electrodes or drugs.