In 2005, Professor Karl Deisseroth from Stanford University developed a technique called "optogenetics", which uses light to turn on particular neurons to study brain, heart and stem cells.
But until now, scientists have been unable to effectively switch certain neurons off.
Now after almost 10 years of research, they have discovered to re-engineer light sensitive proteins to better control cells, and help researchers better understand the brain circuits that control things like behaviour and emotions.
The technique will be used in research into rats and monkeys, and researchers hope will one day be able to be used in treating patients with brain diseases like epilepsy, because it enables parts of the brain to be switched back on with light, which means minimal intrusion into the brain.
"This is something we and others in the field have sought for a very long time,” said Deisseroth, a professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioural sciences.
"We’re excited about this increased light sensitivity of inhibition in part because we think it will greatly enhance work in large-brained organisms like rats and primates."
Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study, said the study will have great benefits for brain researchers.
“It creates a powerful tool that allows neuroscientists to apply a brake in any specific circuit with millisecond precision, beyond the power of any existing technology,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Science.
Source: The Independent Author: Kimberly Gillan; Approving editor: Lachlan Williams
news.com.au 28 Apr 2014