No more monkeying!

Optogenetics is a method of probing neural circuits with the help of a combination of genetics and optics. In this method light-sensitive genes from microbial organisms are used along with light in order to receive a response from neurons. This is a very amusing method which is proving to be very helpful and a recent study has added a whole new dimension to this method of altering neural activities.

The study used optogenetics and showed that the behaviour of monkeys can be altered using pulses of blue light which is known to activate specific brain cells. This result has provided the inspiration to develop a similar therapy for human beings. Previously this type of study was done on rodents and invertebrates but the result derived from the reaction in the brain of monkeys proved more helpful. The validation of the result was done with the use of an MRI and tests focussing on neurons responsible for specific eye movements. Both brain activity and subtle alteration in the eye movements were recorded. It was also discovered when there was an optogenetic stimulation in focal brain region, there was a variation in some neural networks which were in the vicinity of the primary light activated site.

Along with providing a better understanding about the brain’s function in controlling behaviour, the study may be useful in the treatment of neurological conditions like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Parkinson’s disease. No more pills, light might be the cure!

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