Optical Control of Neuronal Activity


Optogenetics has become an invaluable method to establish causal relationships between the activity of genetically defined neuronal circuits and behaviour. Channelrhodopsin 2 is a light‐activated channel that, when introduced in neurons allows temporally precise control of the activity of genetically identified neuronal networks. Conversely, halorhodopsins are light sensitive ion pumps that allow us to reversibly inhibit neuronal transmission with single action potential resolution. These optical tools offer new approaches to deconstruct neuronal circuits in freely moving animals. New variants of light‐activated channels and pumps offer a menu of optogenetic tools that allow us to determine functional connectivities and dynamic properties of brain networks. The development of optogenetics has profound implications in our understanding of brain organisation and mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disease.

Key Concepts:

  • Introduction of Channelrhodopsin 2 in neurons allows millisecond optical control of genetically identified neurons.

  • Different mutants of ChR2 show different kinetic properties, spectral sensitivity.

  • Different gene delivery methods allow dissection of neuronal circuits even in the absence of genetic markers and in multiple model organisms.

  • Combination of optogenetics with gene deficiencies and imaging systems will allow significant improvements in our understanding of circuit dynamics and mechanisms of disease.

Keywords: optogenetics; Channelrhodopsin 2; halorhodopsin

Figure 1.

Optogenetic probes and the manipulation of neural circuits. (a) Probes that depolarise the membrane are nonselective cation channels that open in response to blue light. Probes that hyperpolarise the membrane are chloride or proton pumps that open in response to yellow light. (b) Optogenetic probes can be expressed in specific populations of neurons in the brain and stimulated with implantable fiber optic cables.



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Further Reading

Adamantidis A, Carter MC and de Lecea L (2010) Optogenetic deconstruction of sleep‐wake circuitry in the brain. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 2: 31.

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Palmer HS (2010) Optogenetic fMRI sheds light on the neural basis of the BOLD signal. Journal of Neurophysiology 104: 1838–1840.

Zhang F, Gradinaru V, Adamantidis AR et al. (2010) Optogenetic interrogation of neural circuits: technology for probing mammalian brain structures. Nature Protocol 5: 439–456.

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How to Cite close
de Lecea, Luis, and Carter, Matthew E(Apr 2011) Optical Control of Neuronal Activity. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022503]