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Optogenetics illuminates pathways of motivation through brain, Stanford study shows
Date:11/18/2012

want to move.

"This is one of the most debilitating aspects of depression, and motivation to take action is something that we can model in animals. That's the exciting opportunity for us as researchers," said Deisseroth, who also holds the D.H. Chen Professorship.

Light coercion

Psychiatrists, Deisseroth included, believe the will to act may be born in the prefrontal cortex the foremost part of the brain that helps plan and coordinate action. It then zips through the brain as a series of electrical signals, passing from neuron to neuron along countless branching pathways until it reaches the nerves that directly implement movement. Until this study, however, it was not clear which of these pathways might control the willingness to meet challenges, or the anticipation that action might be worthwhile in a difficult situation.

To isolate these pathways relevant to depression, Deisseroth's team needed to stimulate specific brain cells in rodents and observe changes in their behavior. They used optogenetics, a technique Deisseroth developed at Stanford in 2005, which has since revolutionized the fields of bioengineering and neuroscience.

The secret is as old as green algae. These single-celled organisms produce a protein called channelrhodopsin that makes them sensitive to sunlight. Borrowing and engineering the gene for this protein, Deisseroth has been able to create neurons that respond to light delivered from fiber-optic cables. He can turn the neurons on and off by sending bursts of light to activate different areas of the brain and then observe the effects on behavior.

Working backward

Surprisingly, the researchers found that simply stimulating the prefrontal cortices of rodents didn't motivate them to try any harder in a laboratory challenge. It turns out that motivation is not as simple as stimulating a region of the brain. Instead of one switch in the prefrontal cortex that turns motiv
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Contact: Andrew Myers
admyers@stanford.edu
650-736-2245
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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