Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Using naturally occurring sensory photoreceptors - they move in response to light - to activate brain cells

30 November 2018

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Optogenetics shines a light on the brain’s inner workings. It’s a technique that uses tiny beams of light to prompt electrical activity in brain cells, and has allowed neuroscientists to investigate how they work like never before. The process relies on light-sensitive proteins called channelrhodopsins embedded in genetically modified membranes that surround brain cells. The technique is limited by the number of natural channelrhodopsin forms, but a study has now shown two can be altered so they sit upside down in the membrane. This unusual orientation alters their behaviour, such as making them inhibit, rather than activate, cells, and so opens up new possibilities for investigative tinkering. The researchers embedded these new protein forms in a mouse brain’s cells (brain slice pictured, with cells bearing the new tools highlighted in pink), and were able to control the mouse’s behaviour, proving them to be a useful addition to this illuminating toolkit.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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