Thursday, March 29, 2007

Light pulses for reversibly silencing overactive neurons

Left: MIT is spelled out by neuronal voltage, with yellow light inducing downward neural deflections, and blue light inducing upward neural deflections. Such unprecedented, precise programming of neuronal activity is now possible due to efforts of MIT scientists. (Credit: MIT Media Lab)

The first thing this made me think of was when Pikachu was giving children seizures in 1997. That has led to some banned pokemon episodes, as well as increased awareness of photosensitive epilepsy.

Since it has been established that light can stimulate cells into seizure activity in a small percent of the population, it also makes sense that there should be some way to harness light to turn off these signals.
"Science Daily — Scientists at the MIT Media Lab have invented a way to reversibly silence brain cells using pulses of yellow light, offering the prospect of controlling the haywire neuron activity that occurs in diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease."
Check out the article for more information about how they are using the halorhodopsin gene. By shining a yellow light, this gene activates chloride pumps, which inhibit the cell, like an 'off' switch. By shining blue light on the cell, it gets turned back on. They plan to use this to learn more about neural circuits.
"The technique also offers a way to study other brain diseases, as well as normal brain circuitry, offering insight into which brain regions and neurons contribute to specific behaviors or pathological states, Boyden said."
What a cool map this could someday make. Creeping ever closer to cyborg-ness. Their hope:
"In the future, controlling the activity patterns of neurons may enable very specific treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases, with few or no side effects," said Edward Boyden, assistant professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences and leader of the Media Lab's new Neuroengineering and Neuromedia Group."

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