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Light switch inside brain: Laser controls individual nerve cells in mouse

Date:
January 18, 2013
Source:
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Summary:
Activating and deactivating individual nerve cells in the brain is something many neuroscientists wish they could do, as it would help them to better understand how the brain works. Scientists have now developed an implant that is able to genetically modify specific nerve cells, control them with light stimuli, and measure their electrical activity all at the same time.

The polymer-based neural probe with platinum electrodes for the measurement of electrical signals, an injection channel for fluids (rectangular openings), and a waveguide for optical stimulation
Credit: IMTEK/University of Freiburg

Activating and deactivating individual nerve cells in the brain is something many neuroscientists wish they could do, as it would help them to better understand how the brain works.

Scientists in Freiburg and Basel, Switzerland, have developed an implant that is able to genetically modify specific nerve cells, control them with light stimuli, and measure their electrical activity all at the same time. This novel 3-in-1 tool paves the way for completely new experiments in neurobiology, also at Freiburg's new Cluster of Excellence BrainLinks-BrainTools.

Birthe Rubehn and her colleagues from the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) and the Bernstein Center of the University of Freiburg as well as the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel describe the prototype of their implant in the journal Lab on a Chip. They report that initial experiments in which they implanted prototypes into mice were successful: The team was able to influence the activity of nerve cells in the brain in a controlled manner by means of laser light pulses.

The team used an innovative genetic technique that makes nerve cells change their activity by shining different colored lights on them. In optogenetics, genes from certain species of algae are inserted into the genome of another organism, for instance a mouse. The genes lead to the inclusion of light-sensitive pores for electrically charged particles into a nerve cell's membrane. These additional openings allow neuroscientists to control the cells' electrical activity.

However, only the new implant from Freiburg and Basel makes this principle actually practicable. The device, at its tip only a quarter of a millimeter wide and a tenth of a millimeter thick, was constructed on the basis of polymers, special plastics whose safety for implantation into the nervous system has been proven.

Unlike probes developed so far, it is capable of injecting substances necessary for genetic modification, emitting light for the stimulation of the nerve cells, and measuring the effect through various electrical contacts all at once. Besides optimizing the technique for production, the scientists want to develop a second version whose injection channel dissolves over time, reducing the implant's size even further.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Birthe Rubehn, Steffen B. E. Wolff, Philip Tovote, Andreas Lüthi, Thomas Stieglitz. A polymer-based neural microimplant for optogenetic applications: design and first in vivo study. Lab on a Chip, 2013; DOI: 10.1039/C2LC40874K

Cite This Page:

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. "Light switch inside brain: Laser controls individual nerve cells in mouse." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130118111557.htm>.
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. (2013, January 18). Light switch inside brain: Laser controls individual nerve cells in mouse. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130118111557.htm
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. "Light switch inside brain: Laser controls individual nerve cells in mouse." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130118111557.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

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