April 27, 2014 AT 12:00 am

Neural “Off Switch” Quiets the Mind Using Pulses of Light


After nearly a decade of research and trials, scientists have managed to fine tune a technique known as “optogenetics” to effectively turn on and off neural activity using pulsing light. The technique shows promising application for studies and treatments for brain diseases like epilepsy. From The Independent:

“This is something we and others in the field have sought for a very long time,” Mr Deisseroth, a senior author of the paper and professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioural sciences said.

“We’re excited about this increased light sensitivity of inhibition in part because we think it will greatly enhance work in large-brained organisms like rats and primates.”

The new techniques rely on changing 10 of the amino acids in the optogenetic protein.

“It creates a powerful tool that allows neuroscientists to apply a brake in any specific circuit with millisecond precision, beyond the power of any existing technology,” Mr Insel explained.

This technique could help scientists develop treatments for patients with some brain diseases as it could allow problematic parts of the brain to be switched off with light and tackled with minimal intrusion.

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