July 29, 2012
Researchers Use Light To Control Monkey Brains
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Researchers have for the first time shown that they can control the behavior of monkeys by using pulses of blue light to very specific brain cells.
This is an advance for optogenetics, a state-of-the-art method for making slight connectivity between brain activity and behavior. According to the researchers, similar light-based mind control could likely also be made to work in humans for therapeutic needs and care.
"We are the first to show that optogenetics can alter the behavior of monkeys," said Wim Vanduffel of Massachusetts General Hospital and KU Leuven Medical School. "This opens the door to use of optogenetics at a large scale in primate research and to start developing optogenetic-based therapies for humans."
According to the researchers: "In optogenetics, neurons are made to respond to light through the insertion of light-sensitive genes derived from particular microbial organisms. Earlier studies had primarily validated this method for use in invertebrates and rodents, with only a few studies showing that optogenetics can alter activity in monkey brains on a fine scale."
The researchers focused on neurons that control particular eye movements for their recent study. By combining optogenetics with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they showed that they could use light to activate these neurons, generating brain activity and subtle changes in eye-movement behavior.
Optogenetic stimulation of the focal brain region produced changes in the activity of specific neural networks located at some distance from the primary site of light activation.
The findings not only pave the way for a detailed understanding of how different parts of the brain control behavior, but they may also have important clinical applications in treating Parkinson's disease, addiction, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other neurological conditions.
"Several neurological disorders can be attributed to the malfunctioning of specific cell types in very specific brain regions," Vanduffel says. "As already suggested by one of the leading researchers in optogenetics, Karl Deisseroth from Stanford University, it is important to identify the underlying neuronal circuits and the precise nature of the aberrations that lead to the neurological disorders and potentially to manipulate those malfunctioning circuits with high precision to restore them. The beauty of optogenetics is that, unlike any other method, one can affect the activity of very specific cell types, leaving others untouched."
Te researched detail their findings in the journal Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.