Light-responsive proteins are allowing scientists to turn neurons on or off selectively with unprecedented precision. Introducing these proteins into cultured cells or the brains of live animals allows investigation of the structure and function of neural networks. These ‘optogenetic’ tools also hold clinical promise, with the potential for modulating activity of brain circuits involved in neurological disorders or restoring vision loss.
Traditional methods for the functional analysis of neurons have relied on direct stimulation by tiny electrodes, although the effectiveness is undermined by the limited spatial and temporal precision with which individual cells can be selectively targeted. As such, the recent emergence of optogenetic tools — genetically encoded switches that allow neurons to be turned on or off with bursts of light — promises to revolutionize the study of how neurons operate singly and as members of larger networks, and could ultimately offer new hope for patients suffering from vision impairment or neurological disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.
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Publisher and/or Author and/or Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! Futuretronium Book at http://3.ly/rECc