Controlling Monkey Brains and Behavior with Light

from cryptogon.com: Via: PhysOrg: Researchers reporting online on July 26 in Current Biology have for the first time shown that they can control the behavior of monkeys by using pulses of blue light to very specifically activate particular brain cells. The findings represent a key advance for optogenetics, a state-of-the-art method for making causal connections between brain activity and behavior. Based on the discovery, the researchers say that similar light-based mind control could likely also be made to work in humans for therapeutic ends. “We are the first to show that optogenetics can alter the behavior of monkeys,” says Wim Vanduffel of Massachusetts General Hospital and KU Leuven Medical School. “This opens the door to use of optogenetics at a large scale in primate research and to start developing optogenetic-based therapies for humans.” In optogenetics, neurons are made to respond to light through the insertion of light-sensitive genes derived from particular microbial organisms. Earlier studies had primarily validated this method for use in invertebrates and rodents, with only a few studies showing that optogenetics can alter activity in monkey brains on a fine scale. In the new study, the researchers focused on neurons that control particular eye movements. Using optogenetics together with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they showed that they could use light to activate these neurons, generating brain activity and subtle changes in eye-movement behavior.

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