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Stanford University School of Medicine

An advancement in optogenetics: Switching off cells with light now as easy as switching them on

Earlier this week, the New York Times featured Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, and his work in optogenetics, which involves precisely turning select brain cells on or off with flashes of light. Today, Deisseroth and colleagues share in the journal Science an advancement in the field. As Tom Abate explains in a release:

Optogenetics gave researchers a powerful investigational technique to deepen their understanding of biological system design and function in animal models. But first-generation optogenetics had a shortcoming: Its light-sensitive proteins were potent at switching cells on, but less effective at turning them off.

Now in a paper culminating years of effort, Deisseroth’s team has re-engineered their light-sensitive proteins to switch cells off far more efficiently than before...

“This is something we and others in the field have sought for a very long time,” said Deisseroth, senior author of the paper and professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Thomas Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study, said this improved “off” switch will help researchers to better understand the brain circuits involved in behavior, thinking and emotion.

“This latest discovery by the Deisseroth team is the kind of neurotechnology envisioned by President Obama when he launched the BRAIN Initiative a year ago,” Insel said. “It creates a powerful tool that allows neuroscientists to apply a brake in any specific circuit with millisecond precision, beyond the power of any existing technology.”

The release offers more details on the work and its implications.

Previously: New York Times profiles Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and his work in optogenetics, A federal push to further brain research, An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”, Lightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact, The “rock star” work of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and Nature Methods names optogenetics its “Method of the Year
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