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A Molecular Light Switch Silences Neurons

 
  November, 23 2004 8:44
your information resource in human molecular genetics
 
     
To understand brain function, researchers need experimental tools that can turn activity on and off in individual neurons and networks of neurons. A technical report in the December issue of Nature Neuroscience describes a new technique for rapid, reversible and precise silencing of neural activity that overcomes limitations of past techniques.

Richard Kramer and colleagues have engineered ion channels that can be switched on and off with light. A molecular tether that attaches to the ion channel can change its shape when exposed to different wavelengths of light. The tether's long form will block the channel, but its short form will leave the channel open. When open, these channels allow positively charged ions to flow out of the neuron, which silences its activity.

These engineered channels improve on previous attempts to selectively manipulate activity in a particular set of neurons. This new technique will likely be used widely in studies of network activity in the brain and may spark the development of more experimental tools.

Author contact:

Richard H. Kramer (University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 510 643 2406, E-mail: rhkramer@berkeley.edu

Also available online.

(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.


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