PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Neuroscientists are eagerly, but not always successfully, looking for proof that optogenetics a celebrated technique that uses pulses of visible light to genetically alter brain cells to be excited or silenced can be as successful in complex and large brains as it has been in rodent models.
A new study in the journal Current Biology may be the most definitive demonstration yet that the technique can work in nonhuman primates as well as, or even a little better than, the tried-and-true method of perturbing brain circuits with small bursts of electrical current. Brown University researchers directly compared the two techniques to test how well they could influence the visual decision-making behavior of two primates.
"For most of my colleagues in neuroscience to say 'I'll be able to incorporate [optogenetics] into my daily work with nonhuman primates,' you have to get beyond 'It does seem to sort of work'," said study senior author David Sheinberg, professor of neuroscience professor affiliated with the Brown Institute for Brain Science. "In our comparison, one of the nice things is that in some ways we found quite analogous effects between electrical and optical [stimulation] but in the optical case it seemed more focused."
Ultimately if it consistently proves safe and effective in the large, complex brains of primates, optogenetics could eventually be used in humans where it could provide a variety of potential diagnostic and therapeutic benefits.
Evidence in sight
With that in mind, Sheinberg, lead author Ji Dai and second author Daniel Brooks designed their experiments to determine whether and how much optical or electrical stimulation in a particular area of the brain called the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) would affect each subject's decision making when presented with a choice between a target and a similar-looking, distracting character.
|Contact: David Orenstein|