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Biotech Science

The Birth of Optogenetics 70

Posted by Soulskill
from the lasers-on-the-brain dept.
Dr. Tom writes "Scientists at MIT and other labs have created transgenic neurons that fire when exposed to light. The technique targets specific cell types in live primates. They are already talking about the possibilities for therapy and behavior modification by optically stimulating specific brain circuits."
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The Birth of Optogenetics

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  • by DahGhostfacedFiddlah (470393) on Friday July 08, 2011 @01:11PM (#36697736) Homepage

    They are already talking about the possibilities for therapy and behavior modification by optically stimulating specific brain circuits.

    They can talk about it all they want, but until they invent a transparent skull, I'm not sure I see many practical applications.

    • by durrr (1316311)
      Optogenetics have been around for a few years and have proved to work splendidly in mice. Now of course in mice the usual approach is to drill a hole in the skull and feed a fiber optic cable into it, for a human you would probably miniaturize some light emitting device and embedd it inside the skull.

      The reason why optogenetics is so much better than electrodes is not only for the fact that you require physical electrode present to act as a growth area for scar tissue, but that you can target specific ne
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        So do they just go through a ton of mice, or how are they dealing with all the problems of implants that pass through the skin?

        • Yeah, They go through a ton of mice. Mice breed like... well, mice. 3-12 offspring every month or so, starting from age 6 weeks and going for about a year. A female mouse could easily be "bedded" by her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson and she could have over 35 million ancestors at that point.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      The animals who get these neurons will have neat little windows cut into their skulls. They'll also live in labs.

      • You mean tiny rectangular rooms with controlled environments where the subjects feed at regular intervals and are trained to press buttons to receive tiny rewards.

        Whoops! Gotta go type up that report or I won't get that bonus or that bigger cubicle down the hall.

        • by Abstrackt (609015)

          You mean tiny rectangular rooms with controlled environments where the subjects feed at regular intervals and are trained to press buttons to receive tiny rewards.

          Whoops! Gotta go type up that report or I won't get that bonus or that bigger cubicle down the hall.

          I have to be honest, your first line made me think of MMOs first.

    • by njvack (646524)

      They are already talking about the possibilities for therapy and behavior modification by optically stimulating specific brain circuits.

      They can talk about it all they want, but until they invent a transparent skull, I'm not sure I see many practical applications.

      There are conditions (Parkinson's, epilepsy, severe depression) in which people get electrodes implanted in their brains, with (sometimes) therapeutic benefits. Optical stimulation can be much more precisely targeted and controlled -- with good DNA delivery vectors, you can target specific cell types, or the neurons connecting two brain regions. Optical stimulation, I believe, also causes less cell damage than direct electrical stimulation.

      It's not the kind of thing most people will ever need, but if you ha

    • by kikito (971480)

      Skin is actually light sensitive. Pain receptors are directly connected to neurons. It could be used for torture, if they found a way to replace regular sub-cutaneous skin neurons with photosensitive ones.

      • it's already done, but lower in the spectrum. 95GHz waves, or 3.2 mm ones are used in the "Pain Ray" to remotely provoke unbearable pain in an outer layer of the skin. It's sold as the way of the future to quell protests, though good old water cannon and bullets are cheaper. There's even a commercial [youtube.com] about it.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      They can talk about it all they want, but until they invent a transparent skull, I'm not sure I see many practical applications.

      Skull is transparent enough, you just need a bright enough light. Alternatively you need to open the skull. Sharks with lasers mounted to their heads can do both.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      They are already talking about the possibilities for therapy and behavior modification by optically stimulating specific brain circuits.

      They can talk about it all they want, but until they invent a transparent skull, I'm not sure I see many practical applications.

      If you mean where the Sun does not shine, then you have omitted fiber optics.

      I suppose it would stimulate "nerve flow" whatever that is.

    • From TFA:

      "... the free end of the optical fiber is simply inserted into the brain of the live animal when needed, or coupled at the time of experimentation to an implanted optical fiber."

  • If making a reliable long-term electrical connection between neurons and circuitry continues to be as hard as it has been so far, then this technique could offer a superior way of coupling the brain to cybernetics. Neurons would only need to be near the input device, not need to be touching it. The brain would figure out what the signals meant just as easily.
    • by durrr (1316311)
      So far I don't think there's optogenetic tools to read output from neurons, just input methods. Although I'm willing to put my manhood at stake that voltage-triggered-fluorescent membrane proteins exist already in some form.
      As for ordinary electrodes, it is getting easier all the time.
      • Can't put a finger on actual voltage triggered fluorescent proteins - but you can get voltage triggered structural change in membrane proteins, and from there it is just the problem of attaching a fluorescence label that is sensitive to it's environment and you should be able to grab a signal off it. Of course, implementing that in a living brain is another problem....
        • Some deep-sea luminescent creatures I've seen videos of flicker their lights in surprisingly intricate patterns. Too fast for hormonal cotrol. I would guess neural. There is a nice starting point to sequence.
  • by Rotifera (173297) on Friday July 08, 2011 @01:40PM (#36698068)

    where ideas are triggered by lightbulbs turning on inside our heads literally.

  • Light-sensitive genes... ok.

    However, I'll start worrying if tomorrow they come up with something that provokes serious mutations when fed after midnight.

  • An alternative technique to Optogenetics is called Magnetogenetics, which in my opinion may have even more clinical relevance. In optogenetics, viral vectors are used to transfect the opsin of choice in the neuronal population of choice, and then those neurons can be stimulated by the wavelength of light specific to that opsin. The newer and less well known technique of Magnetogenetics, uses viral vectors to transfect a specific ion channel that opens in response to magnetic stimulation of a certain frequ
    • Of course, having one's memory wiped by getting too close to a magnet *is* an unfortunate side effect.

      • Hah, I recall a story my NMR prof told in one of his lectures. Back in the 50s, when biomolecular NMR just started out, the theory that memory was based on magnetic fields had been floating around. One of the early masters of NMR thought it was bullshit, and proceeded to stick his head into a magnet assembly producing a field of a couple of Tesla, just to prove his point. Fortunately for him, he proved to be right.
      • That might be blowing the effectiveness of the tool out of proportion a bit. For one thing, "memory" is spread over numerous regions of the brain, among hundreds of different neuronal and non-neuronal cell types. Simply affecting one type via magnetogenetics would likely not have too much of an impact on something this complex. However, stimulating dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra of a parkinsons patient using a tool such as this would theoretically restore motor function similarly to deep brain
    • Patients would work out where they need to tape a magnet to get high?
  • Not sure the lights in the chair were bright enough, but I thought the concept was silly, at the time....
    • by net28573 (1516385)
      Finally someone brought it up! Its so hard to find people who have watched that show. Btw, I enjoy my treatments, and "there are three flowers in a vase, the third one is green".
  • Not sure why, but this made me think about Mr. Gumby.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrjHKMJTh1w [youtube.com]

    Oh yeah...MY BRAIN HURTS!
  • I don't have the paper at hand, but I recall reading about optically activated neurons being created in a mouse model years ago. Leave a hole in the skull, connect with fibre optics and activate at will. I'd have to dig through my files to find the proper citation, though - so I might be mistaken, but this sounds awfully familiar.
  • Kinda makes you more weary of TSA scanners, doesn't it? Light is not just visible light. Radio waves are light waves, just at a different frequency.

    Next time you go through a scanner and you suddenly think, "Hmmm, can I haz cheezburger?" think about if that impulse was internally or externally generated.

  • by njvack (646524) <njvack@wisc.edu> on Friday July 08, 2011 @02:05PM (#36698362)

    The summary is a bit remiss in not mentioning Karl Deisseroth's group at Stanford, who have really made this technique practical. I'm at a different (also good) neuroscience lab, and his group's work looks like magic to me -- they've crossed a lot of t's and dotted a lot of i's. It's really, really elegant, and has a lot of therapeutic potential in humans.

    They've made a great video showing optical control of a mouse's motor cortex [youtube.com], and the lab's main optogenetics page [stanford.edu] has some publications.

    • by macwhizkid (864124) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:20PM (#36699248)

      Article does mention Karl Deisseroth, just mainly by first name. But yes, Deisseroth's research group pioneered most of this research, which truly is spectacularly cool.

      Here's a Wired article from last year [wired.com] that explains optogenetics in prose more familiar to the average Slashdot user. And a YouTube video [youtube.com] of Deisseroth giving an overview of his work.

      I've been lucky enough to see Deisseroth speak a couple of times (always in a packed auditorium). The pace at which he displays his results and the value of the results themselves is almost mind-boggling. He'll talk about a really great result they got with an experiment inhibiting fear in mice (if I recall, they targeted the amygdala and then showed the animal hiding in corners of the cage until they turn on the laser and he runs across the open space) and then before you can wrap your brain around it he's already moved on to talking about revolutionizing Parkinson's research by selectively inhibiting dopaminergic neurons.

      As if inventing a groundbreaking technique and using it to solve all kinds of interesting problems isn't enough, Deisseroth has also been very proactive about sharing his techniques and methods, to the point that his lab actually holds workshops for other neuroscientists to learn how to do similar work. A pretty awesome guy all around, and I suspect he'll be the recipient of a Nobel Prize before too long.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      So far this is the only intelligent comment. Congratulations.

    • They've made a great video showing optical control of a mouse's motor cortex,

      OK IAAS (I Am A Scientist) and I can appreciate the potential for good with this research but watching that video... it's just a little creepy to see a living animal quite literally turned into a robot. Maybe it's just watching too many episodes of STNG. OTOH I bet there are (some) military and covert agency types who got a hardon watching it.

  • I for one welcome our new shiny overlords
  • ... scientists are close to a breakthrough in introducing light into the dank recesses of your parents' basement.

    So, Slashdotters. Beware!

  • I'm sure Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Khadafy, Ceaucescu, Honecker, Ulbricht, Saddam, et. al. would have really enjoyed this technology. I'm sure that others will too.

  • so i guess ill be getting a fourth eye soon.
  • Scientists at MIT and other labs

    read: other, insignificant to mention here, labs

    They are already talking about the possibilities

    the TFA is a guy talking about himself. "I this and I that"

    announcing that ChR2 could be used to depolarize neurons

    Well done. This, along with 213875684375925 other compounds.

    viruses bearing genes

    Now I ain't no more grammar nazi than the next guy, but a neuroscientist that writes history and coins up new terms certainly knows what the plural of 'virus' is.

    As a case study, the birth of optogenetics

    Yea, right- vanity at its best. Just keep up your part of your job, which is doing your job, and leave the grandiose historic naming of historic moments to historians, which is not yo

  • Using viruses (see TFA) to implant the necessary genetic changes to motor neurons, prisoners and other bad people can be 'prepared' for control by authorities ... but then so could we all, without our knowledge or consent ... even at birth.

    What is really chilling is the sense that the articles author sees nothing wrong with controlling a brain. Of course it would be hard for him to see past his ego.

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