Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Pulsing light silences overactive neurons

29.03.2007
Work could lead to non-surgical treatment for epilepsy, Parkinson's

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.

Such diseases often must be treated by removing neurons that fire incorrectly. The new MIT research could lead to the development of optical brain prosthetics to control neurons, eliminating the need for irreversible surgery.

"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.

Boyden and Media Lab research affiliate Xue Han published their results in the March 21 issue of the online journal Public Library of Science ONE (PLOS One).

The work takes advantage of a gene called halorhodopsin found in a bacterium that grows in extremely salty water, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah. In the bacterium, Natronomas pharaonis, the gene codes for a protein that serves as a light-activated chloride pump, which helps the bacterium make energy.

When neurons are engineered to express the halorhodopsin gene, the researchers can inhibit their activity by shining yellow light on them. Light activates the chloride pumps, which drive chloride ions into the neurons, lowering their voltage and silencing their firing.

That inhibitory effect may be extremely useful in dealing with diseases caused by out-of-control neuron firing, said Boyden. "In such diseases, inhibition is more direct than excitation, because you can shut down neural circuits that are behaving erratically," he said.

Many epilepsy patients have implanted electrodes that periodically give their brains an electric jolt, acting as a defibrillator to shut down overactive neurons. This new research opens up the possibility of an optical implant that could do the same thing, using light instead of electricity. The Media Lab neuroengineering group plans to start studying such devices in transgenic mice this year.

The group also plans to use the new method to study neural circuits. Last year, Boyden devised a technique to stimulate neurons by shining blue light on them, so with blue and yellow light the researchers can now exert exquisite control over the stimulation and inhibition of individual neurons.

Learning more about the neural circuits involved in epilepsy could help scientists develop devices that can predict when a seizure is about to occur, allowing treatment (either shock or light) to be administered only when necessary, Boyden said.

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.

The halorhodopsin gene was originally discovered in the 1980s, but Boyden didn't think its full potential had been explored. The protein expressed by the gene turned out to have exactly the right characteristics to make it useful in neuron inhibition.

"Often if you are patient and think carefully about what you want to do, you can find a molecule that is very close to what you want, and with a little bit of luck it will turn out to work," Boyden said.

The halorhodopsin work is one of the first projects from the Media Lab Neuroengineering and Neuromedia Group, which was formed about six months ago to enhance the Media Lab's study of the brain-body relationship.

"The Media Lab has always been interested in studying the interface between people and the world," Boyden said, "but now people are getting interested in the interface between bodies and brains in the world."

Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Study tracks inner workings of the brain with new biosensor
16.08.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht Foods of the future
15.08.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A paper battery powered by bacteria

21.08.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Protein interaction helps Yersinia cause disease

21.08.2018 | Life Sciences

Biosensor allows real-time oxygen monitoring for 'organs-on-a-chip'

21.08.2018 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>