This hair-thin combination of electrode and optical fiber allows researchers to deliver stimulating light and current to a neuron and to measure the electrical activity of each. Credit: Sheinberg lab/Brown University
Optogenetics is a promising new tool for selective activation of neurons that may have the potential to help treat many neurological conditions. We’ve been covering most of the groundbreaking advancements in this field, excited to see how the technology develops from the laboratory phase into eventual therapies for patients. Interestingly, though, this route was never guaranteed to be effective if what was tested on small rodents doesn’t translate well into larger primates such as humans. Moreover, optical stimulation of neurons must also compete with its older electrical cousin that’s had a lot more time to be perfected in laboratories and clinics.
Researchers at Brown University, in an attempt to empirically evaluate optogenetics against electrical stimulation, tested the effectiveness of the two techniques on live monkeys and discovered that optogenetics is, among other findings, “similar but more specific than electrical stimulation.” Moreover, optogenetics may prove to be more practical for a variety of applications because it does not interfere with electrical recording of neural activity.
From the study in Current Biology:
In this study, we directly compare the effects of optogenetic activation and electrical microstimulation in the lateral intraparietal area during a visuospatial discrimination task. We observed significant and predictable biases in visual attention in response to both forms of stimulation that are consistent with the experimental modulation of a visual salience map. Our results demonstrate the power of optogenetics as a viable alternative to electrical microstimulation for the precise dissection of the cortical pathways of high-level processes in the primate brain.
Study in Current Biology: Optogenetic and Electrical Microstimulation Systematically Bias Visuospatial Choice in Primates…
Brown: Optogenetics as good as electrical stimulation…
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