Not Science Fiction Anymore: Remote Control for the Brain

Remote Control for the Brain – A New Protein Provides a Neuron Photoswitch. ‘The development of a remote control device that can be used to manipulate neural activity in a brain sounds like the premise of a science fiction film, probably a summer blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves. However, the device is real, it stars a team of Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley scientists, and it holds enormous promise for future studies into how the brain works.
Ehud Isacoff, a biophysicist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, has led a study in which an artificial, light-activated protein was genetically engineered into the neurons of zebrafish. When a beam of light at a certain wavelength shines on the fish, it blocks their normal reflex response to a physical touch.
When the fish are illuminated with a second beam of light at a higher wavelength, the reflex response is restored. The engineered protein is called a “light-gated ionotropic glutamate receptor (LiGluR)” and was developed in a continuing collaboration between Isacoff and Dirk Trauner, a UC Berkeley chemistry professor.
“For the first time, we have the ability to target specific types of neurons within the neural circuits of a brain for selective activation,” Isacoff says. “This ability to stimulate select neurons, either in isolated tissue or in living animals, is a big advantage for scientists seeking to determine how specific neuronal cell types contribute to brain functions and behavior”.’

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