Optogenetics Shows Promising Results in Controlling Neurons in Larger Subjects
16 January 2014
Researchers at Brown University, Rhode Island, have conducted an experiment to compare the effects of optogenetics and electrostimulation on primate brains in what is said to be the most precise direct comparison yet between the two methods for controlling the behavior of neurons in larger animals.
The success of the tests provides a leap ahead for the use of optogenetics as a technique to control the functioning of neurons in live animals. The experiment is considered a major breakthrough since most studies examining its use have so far been carried out on small animals.
The aim of the experiment, published in the journal Current Biology, was to justify optogenetics' potential use in experiments involving larger animals. This goal requires the light-delivery systems to be as versatile and flexible as possible. The comparison highlights the potential advantages of the newer optical method.
The tests involved two primates and the purpose was to monitor their visual decision-making behavior. During the experiment, the primates chose between a T-shape and a distracting object in the field of view, with each correct choice resulting in a reward. The researchers identified broadly similar effects from electrical and optical stimulation in guiding the primates' decisions.
Unlike electrical stimulation, light stimulation provides for simultaneous artefact free recording, which allowed the team to directly monitor the effects of the light modulation, David Sheinberg, professor of neuroscience affiliated with the Brown Institute for Brain Science, told Optics.org. He believes that the granularity of this method poses the biggest potential for future success in the field.
The next stages of the project will seek to further optimize the optical aspects of optogenetics, with LEDs considered the most appropriate light sources for the purpose. The researchers will also continue to examine the broader functionalities of the brain.