Cool Image: Lighting up Brain Cells

Neurons activated with red or blue light.

Neurons activated with red or blue light using algae-derived opsins. Credit: Yasunobu Murata/McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

The nerve cells, or neurons, lit up in blue and red in this image of mouse brain tissue are expressing algae-derived, light-sensitive proteins called opsins. To control neurons with light, scientists engineer the cells to produce particular opsins, most of which respond to light in the blue-green range. Then they shine light on the cell to activate it. Now, a team of researchers led by Ed Boyden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Gane Ka-Shu Wong of the University of Alberta has discovered an opsin that responds to red light preferentially, enabling them to manipulate two groups of neurons simultaneously with different colors of light and get a more comprehensive look at how those two sets of brain cells interact. Other opsins have shown potential for vision restoration in animal studies, and, because red light causes less damage to tissue than blue-green light, this new opsin might eventually be used for such treatments in humans.

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3 comments on “Cool Image: Lighting up Brain Cells

  1. The light at the end of the tunnel?
    Exciting research! This research may also lead to better treatment of drug addiction and other addiction forms as well as dementia and alzheimer. Shining up on a range of brain cells and cause new behaviors is indeed promising. Rather than taking in medicines with unpleasant side effects, this could be an excellent option..

  2. for people with vision problems; the vision restoration cannot come soon enough. hope you continue to get funding

  3. Excellent method to study live cell imaging under confocal. The impressive will be transgenic mice expressing the fluorescent opsin unit. This mice will serve a lot in modern science and medicine.

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