In a boost to optogenetics, a technology allowing scientists to control brain activity by shining light on neurons, the first light-sensitive molecule that enables neurons to be silenced non-invasively using a light source outside the skull has been developed.
Optogenetics relies on light-sensitive proteins that can suppress or stimulate electrical signals within cells and require a light source to be implanted in the brain.
But now engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US have made it possible to do long term studies without an implanted light source. The protein, known as Jaws, also allows a larger volume of tissue to be influenced at once.
This non-invasive approach could pave the way to using optogenetics in human patients to treat epilepsy and other neurological disorders, the researchers said.
Optogenetics, a technique developed over the past 15 years, has become a common laboratory tool for shutting off or stimulating specific types of neurons in the brain, allowing neuroscientists to learn much more about their functions.