Optogenetics: Using Light to Investigate and Potentially Treat Neurological and Psychological Disorders




Kub, Michael

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Optogenetics is an innovative neuromodulation technique involving the use of light and light-sensitive proteins to control molecular events within a genetically modified cell. The fundamental mechanism behind optogenetics is the deliberate shining of light at light-sensitive cellular membrane proteins which causes some sort of change within a cell. These proteins, called opsins, come in many forms including ion channels, pumps, and Gprotein-coupled receptors and they are found in a wide range of organisms from vertebrates to prokaryotes. When utilizing optogenetics, researchers must make several considerations including the light source to be used to control the cellular event, the type of cell to be activated by the light,and the tools to be utilized for measuring such cellular activity. We reviewed in detail the mechanism behind optogenetics and the considerations researchers make in employing this technique. We also reviewed outcomes from several studies centered around it and its current limitations. In conducting this review, we utilized web-based archives such as PubMed, Nature, and ScienceDirect. The studies that we specifically reviewed include the application of optogenetics for analyzing the effect that grafted cells have on relieving Parkinson’s Disease symptoms in animal models, the capability of optogenetics in instantly controlling depression-like states in mice, and the capability of optogenetics in regulating epilepsy in cultured animal brain models. In each of these studies, the type of cell that was sought to be controlled was the neuron, which all studies had substantial success in doing so. One area which was not addressed in these studies and which should be in future studies, is the plausibility that optogenetics could someday be used on humans. Based on the outcomes of these studies and the overall indication that optogenetics is an effective and precise technique in evoking cellular events, we conclude that optogenetics will likely have an enormous impact on research for years to come. Furthermore, given concerns over safety and use on humans, which we get into later in this paper, we also conclude that optogenetics has an uncertain future for clinical application.