Neuroscience and Technology- Optogenetics

Summary


This article talks about how technology and neuroscience can be connected and how they can make a huge impact in the field of medicine and therapy. It also emphasizes the role of engineering and how useful it can be when coupled with biology even though they are two extremely contrasting fields.

 

It is fascinating and almost unbelievable to see how technology has progressed, especially in the field of medicine! We can say that technology is changing the world of medicine in multiple ways: a lot of medical conditions, both physical and mental, such as heart failure, diabetes, depression, schizophrenia, medication noncompliance, etc., are being researched upon with new technologies to come up with a solution.


For example, apart from its other benefits, 3D printers help surgeons in performing the operation effectively by providing better visualization and accuracy because they make the human organ models look more realistic than their 2D representation.


Similarly, recent progress in the field of engineering technology coupled with biology highlights the use and importance of optogenetics in treating certain neurological ailments.


What is optogenetics? Optogenetics is a vast field rather than a singular technique used in neuroscience, wherein a light sensitive protein can attach to some specific neurons in the brain, modulating their activity, with the help of the light signals. This tiny wireless device is considered a massive boon in the field of neuroscience research. The science behind this is that the device can produce a high-intensity optogenetic light stimulation right through the skull, without passing through the brain in any way. It is wireless, does not require batteries, and most importantly, is minimally invasive due to its subdermal mode of implantation.


This approach causes minimal or no damage to the neural tissue compared to other related approaches where the associated probes have damaged the targeted neural tissue, disrupting the blood brain barrier and making optogenetic stimulation of the brain very challenging! Since there is no use of invasive probes in this device, it eases the process of research in optogenetics. [1]


The researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) emphasize on the use of the protein- opsin, in this optogenetic tool. The protein occurs in the brain and eyes of zebrafish and was eventually introduced in the brain of mice. Unlike many other G protein-coupled receptors which are activated by light, opsin is an exception and is permanently active.


G protein-coupled receptors that are stimulated by light are known for their key role in ion channels and signal transduction mechanisms in cells, but in Opsin (Opn7b), light permanently damages the active signaling chain. The little research that has been done on the G protein-coupled receptors which are activated without light stimulation, tells us that they play a key role in a lot of neuropsychiatric conditions, night blindness, and in the development of virally induced cancers.


Optogenetics and epileptic seizures: Bochum researchers Dr. Jan Claudius Schwitalla and Johanna Pakusch conducted an experiment where they altered a few cells of the cerebral cortex in mice, so as to produce Opsin. Upon deactivating the receptor with light, they sensed cortical hyperexcitability triggering epileptiform activity in the brain, which was then interrupted with the introduction of other light controlled proteins.


This experiment made the researchers feel more optimistic about this optogenetic tool and further research is by neuroscientists across the world who are conducting various studies on the development of epileptic seizures. [2]


This discovery has allowed experts within the scientific community, particularly within the field of medicine to finally consider and implement pain-free and drug-free therapy techniques in the treatment of disorders like epilepsy, depression, addiction, and many more, by targeting specific neurons. This tiny device which is predicted to deliver significantly fruitful results has proved that merging contrasting fields, such as biology and engineering, can lead wonders!




REFERENCES


[1] J. Ausra et al., “Wireless, battery-free, subdermally implantable platforms for transcranial and long-range optogenetics in freely moving animals.,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 118, no. 30, Jul. 2021, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2025775118.


[2]R. Karapinar et al., “Reverse optogenetics of G protein signaling by zebrafish non-visual opsin Opn7b for synchronization of neuronal networks,” doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24718-0.

 

About the author



Shreya Rao, a student of NMIMS Sunandan Divatia School of Science, currently in the third year of Integrated Master’s in biomedical sciences, is a beginner in the broad and informative world of research. A valued member of Project Encephalon, she aspires to research and delve deep into the area of Neuroscience and Psychology. Her other fields of interest include Embryology and Cancer Biology. Although she has a lot to learn about research and writing, as a beginner, she willingly looks forward to gaining knowledge in this field at every step, as she proceeds in her journey within STEM.