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MIT Shows How to Shut Down Brain With Light 223

Posted by samzenpus
from the men-in-black dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The MIT home-page story today is about a way to use light to shut down brain activity. "Scientists at the MIT Media Lab have invented a way to reversibly silence brain cells using pulses of yellow light, offering the prospect of controlling the haywire neuron activity that occurs in diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease."
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MIT Shows How to Shut Down Brain With Light

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  • by joe_cot (1011355) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:34AM (#18525831) Homepage
    There are easier ways to shut down brain activity. 4chan comes to mind.
    • by drwiii (434) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:55AM (#18525927)
      Rule 1 violation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Using light? I've had a lot of professors that seemed to be able to shut down brains using sound. Generally their own voice was sufficient.
    • This fits the discovery by Brainerd in 2001 that the human (and animal) eye has a receptor for blue light that controls the circadian clock.

      The cataract surgeons are debating whether it's safer to put in plastic replacement lenses that block blue (to maybe reduce the risk of eye damage from blue light), or if that's a bad idea. Turns out reducing blue during the daytime makes people sleepier.

      There's a lot to this; I wonder if the MIT folks know about the other work in the area of using blue light to stay a
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:35AM (#18525837)
    ...that this is actually a plan to invent the Neuralizer from Men in Black?
  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Steve--Balllmer (1070854) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:37AM (#18525845)
    ... a scientific reason why we /.ers should not leave the darkness of our parents' basements and our computer monitors, and continue to avoid the dreaded realm known as "outside".
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ... a scientific reason why we /.ers should not leave the darkness of our parents' basements and our computer monitors, and continue to avoid the dreaded realm known as "outside".

      You mean that big, blue room?

      I dunno about you, but I have problems going in there in the first place. That room is big. And it's got that huge, moving light that radiates heat. Probably, what, 1000 watts? Boggles the mind.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:39AM (#18525857)
    According to the article:

    When neurons are engineered to express the halorhodopsin gene, the researchers can inhibit their activity by shining yellow light on them. Light activates the chloride pumps, which drive chloride ions into the neurons, lowering their voltage and silencing their firing.
    So, if we genetically engineer some people with Parkinson's or epilepsy to have these halorhodopsin neurons, we can give them a normal life as long as we find a way to shine light directly into their brains?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrbluze (1034940)

      So, if we genetically engineer some people with Parkinson's or epilepsy to have these halorhodopsin neurons, we can give them a normal life as long as we find a way to shine light directly into their brains?

      I think the article infers that we genetically engineer animals with Parkinson's and Epilepsy having the gene (that is, set up a disease model), then implant LED's into their heads, play with the lights and see what happens, then get a PhD and maybe even a Nobel Prize.

      It's unlikely they would use this method in actual human therapy.

      • by kripkenstein (913150) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:38AM (#18526547) Homepage
        No, actually the article directly implies that human treatment will come out of this:

        "In the future, controlling the activity patterns of neurons may enable very specific treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases, with few or no side effects," said Edward Boyden, assistant professor
        - so this is not just a case of a bad writeup of serious research, or a bad summary on Slashdot. It could be a quote taken out of context, though. In any case, the researchers think this (or something related to it) will be viable eventually, while I, for one, must agree with the grandparent post - how exactly will these light-sensitive chloride pumps get into the brains of already-living sick people?

        I assume that the final human treatment, if any is arrived at, will be very different from what they are doing at present. Time will tell. In any case, a very interesting area of research, even if it is hyped a little regarding possible applications.
        • by milamber3 (173273)
          I suppose, seeing how they are scientists and all, that they could be looking forward to progress made in the realm of gene therapy to deliver the chloride pumps to the target neurons. Receptors in neurons are constantly turning over, so adding the gene for the pump would be a viable way to express it. I would have hoped the slashdot crowd would be take a little time and think about the future implications possible with this study rather than condemn it as non-feasible.
        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:58AM (#18527013) Journal
          I think the part about controling fits is very vaugue, I read "sponsor bait" or to be more polite speculation. Overall I think TFA gave the impression they are planning to use it to non-invasively investigate "circuits" in the hope of creating a device that can predict and prevent a fit with the minimum of intervention.

          The news (to me) in the story is a non-invasive tool that can "flip" individual neurons into a binary on/off state in a controlled manner. I don't know what current "tools" are capable of, nor their level of invasiveness, but it seems to me a wetware debbuging tool such as this could lead to an explosion of knowlage that would make it worthy of a Nobel prize in the not too distant future.

          Having said that, AFAIK indivdual neurons are not binary, their activity level is mesured as a "frequency". It would be interesting to know if the neuron's firing frequency can be controlled with more resolution than the simple on/off implied in TFA.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Yes, both the "on" (channelrhodopsin + blue light) and the "off" (halorhodopsin + yellow light) work on millisecond timescales, just like neurons normally do. The halo paper itself in PLoS one has a great image of being able to assassinate a single spike in a neuron being fired at a typical rate. You can also record a neuron's normal firing pattern and "play it back" with incredible fidelity using blue light to cause the firing.
        • by thegnu (557446)
          No, actually the article directly implies that human treatment will come out of this:

          You read the articles?!! What kind of sick fuck are you, anyway?

          On an actual point, though, Mr. Boyden just states that this SORT of thing could be used in The Future. Look: "In the future, controlling the activity patterns of neurons may enable very specific treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases, with few or no side effects,"

          See? No mention of actually using what they're making. My girlfriend's a geologi
        • by hey! (33014)

          how exactly will these light-sensitive chloride pumps get into the brains of already-living sick people?


          Severe forms of these diseases have been treated by severing the hemispheres of the brain from each other or even removing large chunks of the brain. If the disease is so bad that those therapies aren't considered worse, there's practically a universe of invasive surgery that'd be worth considering.
        • by mcpkaaos (449561)
          how exactly will these light-sensitive chloride pumps get into the brains of already-living sick people?

          It's still early, but I hear they are also working on an automated delivery system [walterkoenig.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mrogers (85392)
      It might be possible to use retroviruses to insert the light-sensitive genes into the patients' cells [wikipedia.org].
    • by osgeek (239988)
      Exactly what I thought as I was reading the article. It's one thing to have a little sensationalism in article title summaries to spice things up a bit; but to say that researches stop brain activity with light and that this technique could be used to help with people with epilepsy is just downright wrong.

      Articles summaries like this need to be pulled and rewritten or discarded. I find it really annoying to be dealt a bait and switch by Slashdot.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:40AM (#18525859) Homepage
    The MIT home-page story today is about a way to use light to shut down brain activity.

    Well, I guess that's cheaper than alcohol.
    • The MIT home-page story today is about a way to use light to shut down brain activity.

      Well, I guess that's cheaper than alcohol.

      Simon (BOFH [theregister.co.uk]) already has a method for shutting down someone's brain activity

      It's called "Boss-Mode" Simply start talking in Level-10 Geek-speak, and watch the Boss's brain shut down
  • Politics (Score:5, Funny)

    by nagora (177841) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:43AM (#18525869)
    Expect to see a lot of yellow lights at party rallies from now on...
  • Makes sense (Score:2, Funny)

    by gaderael (1081429)
    Considering certain patterns of light, as found in some video games, for example, have the ability to bring about seizures and people the suffer from Epilepsy, it makes sanse that certain patterns of light would also be able to reverse that effect.
    • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bindo (82607) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:06AM (#18525975)
      Considering certain patterns of light, as found in some video games, for example, have the ability to bring about seizures and people the suffer from Epilepsy, it makes sanse that certain patterns of light would also be able to reverse that effect.

      Considering certain patterns of falling boulders, as found on some mountains, for example, have the ability to bring death and people the suffer from Epilepsy (sic!). it makes sanse that certain patterns of falling boulders would also be able to reverse that effect.
      NOT!

      Common sense is not a substitute for knowledge. The two effects are not even related.
      • by Lorkki (863577)
        I'm not sure if common sense is a proper name for that, it sounds more like weird cartoon logic to me.
        • It's the Fallacy of the Irrelevant Conclusion.

          Basically you're saying:

          If B then A (If Light causes epileptic fits, then video games will cause epileptic fits)
          If D then C (If Light can shut down cells that cause epileptic fits, then light can cure epilepsy )

          Therefore If B then C (If light can cause epilepsy, light can cure epilepsy).

          Clearly doesn't follow. It's like saying, "If arsenic can cause death, then arsenic should be able to cure death."
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Shrubber (552857)

        Considering certain patterns of falling boulders, as found on some mountains, for example, have the ability to bring death and people the suffer from Epilepsy (sic!). it makes sanse that certain patterns of falling boulders would also be able to reverse that effect.

        Obviously. It's already been proven in cartoons time and time again that if something falling on your head causes amnesia or a personality change that additional impact to your head will cure it. In the case of personality change you may need to apply such force several times as you may simply trigger alternate personalities instead, but you can repeat until satisfied.

      • by moeinvt (851793)
        I'm surprised by your total dismissal of the idea. ? First of all, I think the "video games" portion was just an example. That aside,

        It's absolutely true that using pulsing lights in particular ways can stimulate epileptic seizures. Doctors often do this during an EEG so that they can map the brain activity of the patient during the seizure. If lights can be used to stimulate neuron activity, the idea that light might be used to inhibit neuron activity doesn't seem like that much of a stretch, at least
    • Considering certain patterns of light, as found in some video games, for example, have the ability to bring about seizures and people the suffer from Epilepsy, it makes sanse that certain patterns of light would also be able to reverse that effect.

      No, thats what happens when pulses of light generate signals in the brain via the optic nerve which interfere with existing signals in the brain. Incidently, back when people used to build strobe lights for discos, etc there used to be warnings about pulsing ligh

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's called Family Vacation Slideshow.
  • As in the '60s British series - they had lights that pulsed over peoples faces to make them do/forget things...
    • Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun [amazon.com] had computer monitors could implant an artificial intelligence in anyone who looked at their patterns of swirling colours (as the population in the novels worshipped these artificial intelligences, this was seen as "possession by a god" like in ancient Greek thought). Ironically, this has been called by some critics the most scientifically unbelievable thing in the work, since "looking at patterns of light can't change your brain."
      • Re:Or Wolfe (Score:5, Informative)

        by cnettel (836611) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:08AM (#18525979)
        This is direct exposure, not through the eyes. In addition, the neurons have been altered (an added gene with a photosensitive product) to respond to this treatment.
        • by Gryffin (86893)

          This is direct exposure, not through the eyes.

          Good point.

          But there's a lot of "prior art" that shows you can achieve the same effect through the retina with a bluish light... specifically, that from a television.

    • by mrbluze (1034940) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:40AM (#18526107) Journal

      Did anyone read TFA? It has nothing to do with light entering the eye and hitting the retina. Forget the strobe lights!

      This study is great, because it means we can study animals better. It means researchers will get much more useful information from animal studies (instead of operating on 1000's of rabbits or something, they can do heaps of studies on just one rabbit), which will lead to new and better targets for drug research, better drugs, and perhaps a cure - way down the track.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ogma (755652)
        "This study is great ... instead of operating on 1000's of rabbits ... they can do heaps of studies on just one rabbit"

        Unless you're that one rabbit!
      • by bobscealy (830639) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:42AM (#18526335)

        Did anyone read TFA?



        You ain't from round here, are you boy?

      • by tgv (254536)
        Did any read it? You might better ask: did anyone understand it? Because that doesn't seem to be necessary to get +5 insightful for you comments.

        About the interference from previous experiments within the same animal: it depends on what you want to investigate. Of course there is neural adaptation, but in most regions it is quite slow. So after one experiment you might let the animal run around under normal conditions and it'll be as ready as ever, if only for another experiment.

        Plus, when you're able to su
      • by roman_mir (125474)
        It means researchers will get much more useful information from animal studies (instead of operating on 1000's of rabbits or something, they can do heaps of studies on just one rabbit) - listen, I am all for studying rabbits and all, but if that one rabbit gets pissed off, I wouldn't want to be responsible for the safety of those researchers. If they really want to learn how far they can push a rabbit before it turns into a green monster rabbit and eats their brains out, they can go right ahead.
  • Hooray! (Score:5, Funny)

    by mikkelm (1000451) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:53AM (#18525913)
    Finally I can get a pair of tinfoil shades to go with my hat.
  • is it a tv? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    otherwise known as a boobtube....
  • Any of you young'uns old enough to remember the movie Looker?
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082677/ [imdb.com]
    ....
    Hmmmm,,,
    Holy shit! They're two for two-- CGI media models, and now this. Maybe I better go back and watch that movie again....
    ~


    (-by the by, I'd still like to find the soundtrack to this movie, if anyone has run across a copy-)
  • by bwd234 (806660) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:12AM (#18525993)
    welcome our new yellow light emitting overlords!
  • by SeaFox (739806) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:12AM (#18525997)

    Scientists at the MIT Media Lab have invented a way to reversibly silence brain cells using pulses of yellow light

    Yet another reason CFLs are better!
  • Another ,,, (Score:5, Funny)

    by BlueTrin (683373) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:15AM (#18526007) Homepage Journal
    Another sexist topic about blonde girls !
  • by sshore (50665) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:25AM (#18526039)

    According to the article, the yellow light "silences" neurons that have been engineered to include the halorhodopsin gene found in certain bacteria. The light doesn't have the same effect on the neurons that you'd typically find in your skull.

    I'm not sure how this would be used clinically to treat epilepsy. Perhaps by introducing the genes into cells in the affected area using a retrovirus?

    • Perhaps by introducing the genes into cells in the affected area using a retrovirus?

      If you could do that then you could do lots of other useful things. How about engineering neurons to emit photons in the presence of an electric field and using the resulting stream of photons to model thought processes?

    • by prelelat (201821)
      I'm not sure about epilepsy, but i believe there has been some research that shows a link between parkinsons and genetics. Not that you will get it for sure but that you are more likely to get it because you were exposed to certain drugs or enviroment. If these genes are found in someone early maybe they could add the mutated gene to them so that if they do start showing signs of parkinsons they can be treated.

      I would think a better cure would be to fix the nerological problems or stop them from degrading
    • by Dread_ed (260158)
      "Perhaps by introducing the genes into cells in the affected area using a retrovirus?"

      Ya, and in exchange for your epilepsy relief (dubious) you get brain cancer. For those ready to commit suicide from the effects of debilitating epilepsy this might be a more painful and degrading way to go.

      Besides, if you could use a retrovirus to introduce a snipped of DNA and then use that DNA to treat the symptom, why not use a retrovirus to treat the cause directly. That way you only have side effects from one phase

  • As in sunlight?

    I think they should take a look outside for once.
  • There are quicker ways to shut down the brain.

    Playing 'Russian Roulette' with a semi-automatic pistol is one idea.
  • by Eudial (590661)
    Think of the applications! Time to get a pair of them tin foil glasses to accompany the hat.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Can't believe you missed the follow up article:

    OA (Reuters) - The Guardians of the Universe held a press conference today after scientists in the MIT Media Lab announced that neural activity could be suppressed through the usage of yellow light.

    Spokesperson Tom Kalmaku stated, "It's charming to see that the scientists in Sector 2814 have finally caught on to something the rest of the Galaxy has known for the better part of the past three billion years. The Corps have had to deal with the effects of yell
  • nothing was seen here, move along..
  • Shining sunlight on my mother-in-law makes her melt into a puddle on the floor...

    *ba-dum-tish*

    Wait, there's more, take my mother-in-law, please.
  • "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."
  • I think this is a great achievement. But what about it's misuse%)+!@% NO PULSE
  • belonging (Score:2, Funny)

    by Stooshie (993666)

    All your neuron are belong to us!

  • So to disable the frikkin sharks with lasers, we just have to reverse the polarity of the flux capacitors?!
  • Great! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by John Betonschaar (178617) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:09AM (#18526431)
    Now all we need is a different type of light to activate some people's brains!
  • by SethHoyt (1024709) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:27AM (#18526487)
    Could this explain why when a traffic light turns yellow, nobody seems to notice it?
  • by TomatoMan (93630) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:35AM (#18526523) Homepage Journal
    TV has been shutting all of our brains down for decades.
    • TV has been shutting all of our brains down for decades.


      Nah, TV just lowers it and/or slows it down.

      Powerpoint, on the other hand has been doing it for years, on *both* sides of the projector.

      Can't really use the acronym for Powerpoint Meeting Syndrome...it's take for some reason.
  • This is no news to me. The same thing happens when the light at the office hits my eyes every morning. Almost 0 brain activity.
  • John Carpenter [dailyscript.com] already demonstrated how to shut down brains with light. You just need a shaky grasp of metaphysics, and a very big bomb...
  • I thought Kirk shut down this machine already.
  • Just think, shutting down the "brains" of the king and queens of america. As the article states:

    "...inhibition is more direct than excitation, because you can shut down neural circuits ..."

    Cool. We can turn off their brains. Turn them into mindless robots that pass the laws we want. They don't even have to be reasonable, or logical, or compassionate, just reactive religious zealots or irresponsible twits. Oh, wait. Somebody's already done it. damn.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:53AM (#18526957) Homepage Journal

    When neurons are engineered to express the halorhodopsin gene, the researchers can inhibit their activity by shining yellow light on them.


    So not only would doctors have to get light inside the brain, they'd first have to genetically engineer the neurons to include and express the halorhodopsin gene. The right neurons: the ones that will later have Parkinson's Disease or whatever is being treated.

    How are they going to guess which neurons? Which healthy person is going to let them genetically engineer their neurons? Those neurons are going to behave the same, though they're now expressing proteins that make them work like retinal cells?

    Installing these shutdown hooks is a neat trick. But not for neurological medicine. Maybe for some biomechanics or biocomputation. Throwing genes into neurons for probing with light so violates our most absolutely personal spaces - inside our craniums and our genomes - that the cure is worse than the disease.
  • In totally unrelated news, Microsoft corporation has announced a slight change of M$ Vista logo into an animated one, which will feature flashes of bright yellow. Anonymous sources at Microsoft explain the move as "one of the few options to improve Vista appeal"
  • Scientists at the MIT Media Lab have invented a way to reversibly silence brain cells using pulses of yellow light

          I wonder exactly how long this has been happening to president George W Bush, and is there any way to get his brain back?
  • ...is that they'd have to cut open your head to use it on you. Otherwise I'd be ready to go buy myself some tin foil to make a nice hat (and some very dark shades). I'm not into conspiracy theories, but some kinds of power people just shouldn't be allowed to have.
  • Yellow Light? Did that make anyone else wonder whether they are only experimenting on the Green Lantern?
  • Learning more about the neural circuits involved in epilepsy could help scientists develop devices that can predict when a seizure is about to occur, allowing treatment (either shock or light) to be administered only when necessary, Boyden said.

    An automatic anti-seizure device was featured in the novel "Terminal Man". Hope this one would work better.
  • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @11:58AM (#18529325) Homepage
    Yellow light shuts down brain activity in the drivers here in Nevada quite well.

    Makes them forget that a yellow light means "go slow", not "go really really really fast".
  • Now we might be able to make one of those "freeze lightguns" from the 80's film The Looker [imdb.com]?

    Rich.

  • ... the new Flashy Yellow graphics on Fox News.

    Though I'm sure an hour of the "Half our News Hour" will do the trick... they just want to make sure they have the latest brain-numbing technology.
  • invented a way to reversibly silence brain cells using pulses of yellow light

    This explains Sponge Bob (and the effects of TV in general).

  • <font color=yellow size=100><blink>all your brain are shutdown</blink></font>

"The medium is the message." -- Marshall McLuhan

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