The technique optogenetics has won an abundance of prestigious awards and yet most people, outside the realm of neuroscience, do not know what it is or why it is useful. Optogenetics poses a solution to a difficult challenge within neuroscience research. The complexity of the brain has been a huge pitfall in the field. For several years, scientists have been puzzled as to how to manipulate one type of cell in the brain while simultaneously leaving all of the others unaltered. Optogenetics elegantly combines optics and genetics to monitor neurons to overcome this issue.
In 2010, optogenetics was named the Nature Method of the Year ("Method of the Year 2010"). While this technique and the researchers who contributed to its development are largely being recognized now, the theory behind optogenetics has existed for several years. In fact, opsins, proteins that undergo conformational changes when exposed to light, had been of interest to many researchers since the 1970s.
In 2002, Gero Miesenböck’s lab modified neurons and showed that they could be stimulated by light. They employed a multi-protein system. Miesenböck is considered the founder of what is now known as optogenetics. Also in 2002, Ernst Bamberg, Georg Nagel, Peter Hegemann, and their colleagues published a paper reporting that they discovered an opsin that drives phototaxis, the movement in response to light, in green algae. They suggested that this protein, channelrhodopsin-2, would be useful to manipulate membrane potential, which essentially determines whether a neuron fires or not. These papers influenced the actions of the Deisseroth lab in the early 2000s (Boyden 2011).
Amongst the researchers credited for their pioneering work in optogenetics is Edward Boyden. I...
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Diester, Ilka, Matthew T. Kaufman, Murtaza Mogri, Ramin Pashaie, Werapong Goo, Ofer Yizhar, Charu Ramakrishnan, Karl Deisseroth, and Krishna V. Shenoy. "An Optogenetic Toolbox Designed for Primates." Nature Neuroscience 14.3 (2011): 387-97. Print.
"Method of the Year 2010." Nature Methods 8.1 (2010): 1. Print.
"Method of the Year 2010: Optogenetics - by Nature Video." YouTube. Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 17 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Nagel, G. et al. Channelrhodopsin-2, a directly light-gated cation-selective membrane channel. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100, 13940-13945 (2003).
"The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America." National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
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