April 27, 2009

Laser light used to make brain gamma waves

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists say they've discovered a way to induce gamma waves by shining laser light directly onto the brains of mice.

The high-frequency brain waves known as gamma oscillations are thought to be crucial for consciousness, attention, learning and memory. The study takes advantage of a new technology known as optogenetics, which combines genetic engineering with light to manipulate the activity of individual nerve cells.

The MIT researchers said their findings help explain how the brain produces gamma waves and provides new evidence of the role they play in regulating brain functions -- insights that could lead to new treatments for a range of brain-related disorders.

Gamma waves are known to be (disrupted) in people with schizophrenia and other psychiatric and neurological diseases, said Professor Li-Huei Tsai, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. This new tool will give us a great chance to probe the function of these circuits.

The study that included MIT postdoctoral fellow Jessica Cardin, graduate student Ulf Knoblich and Associate Professor Christopher Moore; Jessica Cardin of the University of Pennsylvania; Karl Deisseroth and Feng Zhang at Stanford University, and Konstantinos Meletis of the Picower Institute appears online in the journal Nature.