A major long-term goal of systems neuroscience is to identify the different roles of neural subtypes in brain circuit function. The ability to causally manipulate selective cell types is critical to meeting this goal. This protocol describes techniques for optically stimulating specific populations of excitatory neurons and inhibitory interneurons in vivo in combination with electrophysiology. Cell type selectivity is obtained using Cre-dependent expression of the light-activated channel Channelrhodopsin-2. We also describe approaches for minimizing optical interference with simultaneous extracellular and intracellular recording. These optogenetic techniques provide a spatially and temporally precise means of studying neural activity in the intact brain and allow a detailed examination of the effect of evoked activity on the surrounding local neural network. Injection of viral vectors requires 30–45 min, and in vivo electrophysiology with optogenetic stimulation requires 1–4 h.
The ability to silence, in a temporally precise fashion, the electrical activity of specific neurons embedded within intact brain tissue, is important for understanding the role that those neurons play in behaviors, brain disorders, and neural computations. “Optogenetic” silencers, genetically encoded molecules that, when expressed in targeted cells within neural networks, enable their electrical activity to be quieted in response to pulses of light, are enabling these kinds of causal circuit analyses studies. Two major classes of optogenetic silencer are in broad use in species ranging from worm to monkey: light-driven inward chloride pumps, or halorhodopsins, and light-driven outward proton pumps, such as archaerhodopsins and fungal light-driven proton pumps. Both classes of molecule, when expressed in neurons via viral or other transgenic means, enable the targeted neurons to be hyperpolarized by light. We here review the current status of these sets of molecules, and discuss how they are being discovered and engineered. We also discuss their expression properties, ionic properties, spectral characteristics, and kinetics. Such tools may not only find many uses in the quieting of electrical activity for basic science studies, but may also, in the future, find clinical uses for their ability to safely and transiently shut down cellular electrical activity in a precise fashion.
optogenetics; opsins; neural silencing; halorhodopsin; archaerhodopsin; channelrhodopsin; control; cell types; neural circuits; causality
Optogenetics is currently the state-of-the-art method for causal-oriented brain research. Despite an increasingly large number of invertebrate and rodent studies showing profound electrophysiological and behavioral effects induced by optogenetics [1,2], only two primate studies have reported modulation of local single-cell activity, but with no behavioral effects [3,4]. Here, we show that optogenetic stimulation of cortical neurons within rhesus monkey arcuate sulcus, during the execution of a visually-guided saccade task, evoked significant and reproducible changes in saccade latencies as a function of target position. Moreover, using concurrent optogenetic stimulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging (aka opto-fMRI, [5,6]) we observed optogenetically-induced changes in fMRI activity in specific functional cortical networks throughout the monkey brain. This is critical information for the advancement of optogenetic primate research models and for initiating the development of optogenetically-based cell-specific therapies with which to treat neurological diseases in humans.
Optogenetics is a powerful neuromodulatory tool with many unique advantages to explore functions of neuronal circuits in physiology and diseases. Yet, interpretation of cellular and behavioral responses following in vivo optogenetic manipulation of brain activities in experimental animals often necessitates identification of photoactivated neurons with high spatial resolution. Although tracing expression of immediate early genes (IEGs) provides a convenient approach, neuronal activation is not always followed by specific induction of widely used neuronal activity markers like c-fos, Egr1 and Arc. In this study we performed unilateral optogenetic stimulation of the striatum in freely moving transgenic mice that expressed a channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) variant ChR2(C128S) in striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs). We found that in vivo blue light stimulation significantly altered electrophysiological activity of striatal neurons and animal behaviors. To identify photoactivated neurons we then analyzed IEG expression patterns using in situ hybridization. Upon light illumination an induction of c-fos was not apparent whereas another neuronal IEG Npas4 was robustly induced in MSNs ipsilaterally. Our results demonstrate that tracing Npas4 mRNA expression following in vivo optogenetic modulation can be an effective tool for reliable and sensitive identification of activated MSNs in the mouse striatum.
Understanding how different kinds of neuron in the brain work together to implement sensations, feelings, thoughts, and movements, and how deficits in specific kinds of neuron result in brain diseases, has long been a priority in basic and clinical neuroscience. “Optogenetic” tools are genetically encoded molecules that, when targeted to specific neurons in the brain, enable their activity to be driven or silenced by light. These molecules are microbial opsins, seven-transmembrane proteins adapted from organisms found throughout the world, which react to light by transporting ions across the lipid membranes of cells in which they are genetically expressed. These tools are enabling the causal assessment of the roles that different sets of neurons play within neural circuits, and are accordingly being used to reveal how different sets of neurons contribute to the emergent computational and behavioral functions of the brain. These tools are also being explored as components of prototype neural control prosthetics capable of correcting neural circuit computations that have gone awry in brain disorders. This review gives an account of the birth of optogenetics and discusses the technology and its applications.
Optogenetics is a rapidly evolving field of technology that allows optical control of genetically targeted biological systems at high temporal and spatial resolution. By heterologous expression of light-sensitive microbial membrane proteins, opsins, cell type-specific depolarization or silencing can be optically induced on a millisecond time scale. What started in a petri dish is applicable today to more complex systems, ranging from the dissection of brain circuitries in vitro to behavioral analyses in freely moving animals. Persistent technical improvement has focused on the identification of new opsins, suitable for optogenetic purposes and genetic engineering of existing ones. Optical stimulation can be combined with various readouts defined by the desired resolution of the experimental setup. Although recent developments in optogenetics have largely focused on neuroscience it has lately been extended to other targets, including stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Further development of optogenetic approaches will not only highly increase our insight into health and disease states but might also pave the way for a future use in therapeutic applications.
Optogenetics; Rhodopsin; Channelrhodopsin; Halorhodopsin; Optical tools; Arch; ChR2; NpHR
The recent development of light-activated optogenetic probes allows for the identification and manipulation of specific neural populations and their connections in awake animals with unprecedented spatial and temporal precision. This review describes the use of optogenetic tools to investigate neurons and neural circuits in vivo. We describe the current panel of optogenetic probes, methods of targeting these probes to specific cell types in the nervous system, and strategies of photostimulating cells in awake, behaving animals. Finally, we survey the application of optogenetic tools to studying functional neuroanatomy, behavior, and the etiology and treatment of various neurological disorders.
The manifestation of complex neuropsychiatric disorders such as drug and alcohol addiction is thought to result from progressive maladaptive alterations in neural circuit function. Clearly, repeated drug exposure alters a distributed network of neural circuit elements. However, a more precise understanding of addiction has been hampered by an inability to control and, consequently, identify specific circuit components that underlie addictive behaviors. The development of optogenetic strategies for selectively modulating the activity of genetically defined neuronal populations has provided a means for determining the relationship between circuit function and behavior with a level of precision that has been previously unobtainable. Here, we briefly review the main optogenetic studies that have contributed to elucidate neural circuit connectivity within the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens, two brain nuclei that are essential for the manifestation of addiction-related behaviors. Additional targeted manipulation of genetically defined neural populations in these brain regions as well as afferent and efferent structures promises to delineate the cellular mechanisms and circuit components required for the transition from natural goal-directed behavior to compulsive reward-seeking despite negative consequences.
dopamine; accumbens; VTA; addiction; behavior; electrophysiology
The kappa opioid receptor (KOR) and its endogenous agonist, the neuropeptide dynorphin, are a critical component of the central stress system. Both dynorphin and KOR are expressed in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a brain region associated with anxiety and stress. This suggests that KOR activation in this region may play a role in the regulation of emotional behaviors. To date, however, there has been no investigation of the ability of KOR to modulate synaptic transmission in the BNST.
We used whole-cell patch clamp recordings from acutely prepared mouse brain slices to examine the actions of KOR on inhibitory transmission in the BNST. Additionally, we used neurochemical and pathway-specific optogenetic manipulations to selectively stimulate GABAergic fibers from the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) to the BNST.
We found that activation of KOR reduced GABAergic transmission through a presynaptic mechanism. Futhermore, we examined the signal transduction pathways that mediate this inhibition, and provide the first functional information implicating ERK in KOR-mediated presynaptic modulation. Moreover, we found that at KOR-signaling robustly reduced inhibitory synaptic transmission in the CeA to BNST pathway.
Together, these results demonstrate that KOR provide important inhibitory control over presynaptic GABAergic signaling within the BNST, and provide the first direct functional demonstration of KOR sensitive long-range GABAergic connections between the CeA and the BNST.
extended amygdala; optogenetics; knock-in; genetic targeting; opioid; GABA; release
Local cortical circuit activity in vivo comprises a complex and flexible series of interactions between excitatory and inhibitory neurons. Our understanding of the functional interactions between these different neural populations has been limited by the difficulty of identifying and selectively manipulating the diverse and sparsely represented inhibitory interneuron classes in the intact brain. The integration of recently developed optical tools with traditional electrophysiological techniques provides a powerful window into the role of inhibition in regulating the activity of excitatory neurons. In particular, optogenetic targeting of specific cell classes reveals the distinct impacts of local inhibitory populations on other neurons in the surrounding local network. In addition to providing the ability to activate or suppress spiking in target cells, optogenetic activation identifies extracellularly recorded neurons by class, even when naturally occurring spike rates are extremely low. However, there are several important limitations on the use of these tools and the interpretation of resulting data. The purpose of this article is to outline the uses and limitations of optogenetic tools, along with current methods for achieving cell type-specific expression, and to highlight the advantages of an experimental approach combining optogenetics and electrophysiology to explore the role of inhibition in active networks. To illustrate the efficacy of these combined approaches, I present data comparing targeted manipulations of cortical fast-spiking, parvalbumin-expressing and low threshold-spiking, somatostatin-expressing interneurons in vivo.
interneuron; inhibition; fast-spiking; somatostatin; optogenetics; channelrhodopsin; halorhodopsin; archaerhodopsin; electrophysiology; tetrode; cortex
The absorption of light by bound or diffusible chromophores causes conformational rearrangements in natural and artificial photoreceptor proteins. These rearrangements are coupled to the opening or closing of ion transport pathways, the association or dissociation of binding partners, the enhancement or suppression of catalytic activity, or the transcription or repression of genetic information. Illumination of cells, tissues, or organisms engineered genetically to express photoreceptor proteins can thus be used to perturb biochemical and electrical signaling with exquisite cellular and molecular specificity. First demonstrated in 2002, this principle of optogenetic control has had a profound impact on neuroscience, where it provides a direct and stringent means of probing the organization of neural circuits and of identifying the neural substrates of behavior. The impact of optogenetic control is also beginning to be felt in other areas of cell and organismal biology.
neuron; membrane potential; ion channel; photostimulation; signal transduction; behavior; optical methods
To study neuronal networks in terms of their function in behavior, we must analyze how neurons operate when each behavioral pattern is generated. Thus, simultaneous recordings of neuronal activity and behavior are essential to correlate brain activity to behavior. For such behavioral analyses, the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, allows us to incorporate genetically encoded calcium indicators such as GCaMP1, to monitor neuronal activity, and to use sophisticated genetic manipulations for optogenetic or thermogenetic techniques to specifically activate identified neurons2-5. Use of a thermogenetic technique has led us to find critical neurons for feeding behavior (Flood et al., under revision). As a main part of feeding behavior, a Drosophila adult extends its proboscis for feeding6 (proboscis extension response; PER), responding to a sweet stimulus from sensory cells on its proboscis or tarsi. Combining the protocol for PER7 with a calcium imaging technique8 using GCaMP3.01, 9, I have established an experimental system, where we can monitor activity of neurons in the feeding center – the suboesophageal ganglion (SOG), simultaneously with behavioral observation of the proboscis. I have designed an apparatus ("Fly brain Live Imaging and Electrophysiology Stage": "FLIES") to accommodate a Drosophila adult, allowing its proboscis to freely move while its brain is exposed to the bath for Ca2+ imaging through a water immersion lens. The FLIES is also appropriate for many types of live experiments on fly brains such as electrophysiological recording or time lapse imaging of synaptic morphology. Because the results from live imaging can be directly correlated with the simultaneous PER behavior, this methodology can provide an excellent experimental system to study information processing of neuronal networks, and how this cellular activity is coupled to plastic processes and memory.
Neuroscience; Issue 62; feeding; proboscis extension; calcium imaging; Drosophila; fruit fly; GCaMP; suboesophageal ganglion (SOG); live imaging; FLIES
To better understand the connectivity of the brain, it is important to map both structural and functional connections between neurons and cortical regions. In recent years, a set of optogenetic tools have been developed that permit selective manipulation and investigation of neural systems. These tools have enabled the mapping of functional connections between stimulated cortical targets and other brain regions. Advantages of the approach include the ability to arbitrarily stimulate brain regions that express opsins, allowing for brain mapping independent of behavior or sensory processing. The ability of opsins to be rapidly and locally activated allows for investigation of connectivity with spatial resolution on the order of single neurons and temporal resolution on the order of milliseconds. Optogenetic methods for functional mapping have been applied in experiments ranging from in vitro investigation of microcircuits, to in vivo probing of inter-regional cortical connections, to examination of global connections within the whole brain. We review recently developed functional mapping methods that use optogenetic single-point stimulation in the rodent brain and employ cellular electrophysiology, evoked motor movements, voltage sensitive dyes (VSDs), calcium indicators, or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess activity. In particular we highlight results using red-shifted organic VSDs that permit high temporal resolution imaging in a manner spectrally separated from Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) activation. VSD maps stimulated by ChR2 were dependent on intracortical synaptic activity and were able to reflect circuits used for sensory processing. Although the methods reviewed are powerful, challenges remain with respect to finding approaches that permit selective high temporal resolution assessment of stimulated activity in animals that can be followed longitudinally.
optogenetic stimulation; Channelrhodopsin-2; in vivo imaging; functional mapping; connectivity
The nonhuman primate brain, the model system closest to the human brain, plays a critical role in our understanding of neural computation, cognition, and behavior. The continued quest to crack the neural codes in the monkey brain would be greatly enhanced with new tools and technologies that can rapidly and reversibly control the activities of desired cells at precise times during specific behavioral states. Recent advances in adapting optogenetic technologies to monkeys have enabled precise control of specific cells or brain regions at the millisecond timescale, allowing for the investigation of the causal role of these neural circuits in this model system. Validation of optogenetic technologies in monkeys also represents a critical preclinical step on the translational path of new generation cell-type-specific neural modulation therapies. Here, I discuss the current state of the application of optogenetics in the nonhuman primate model system, highlighting the available genetic, optical and electrical technologies, and their limitations and potentials.
monkey; genetic manipulation; optical; channelrhodopsin; archaerhodopsin; halorhodopsin; rat
In order to understand how the brain generates behaviors, it is important to be able to determine how neural circuits work together to perform computations. Because neural circuits are made of a great diversity of cell types, it is critical to be able to analyze how these different kinds of cells work together. In recent years, a toolbox of fully genetically encoded molecules has emerged that, when expressed in specific neurons, enables the electrical activity of the targeted neurons to be controlled in a temporally precise fashion by pulses of light. We describe this optogenetic toolbox, how it can be used to analyze neural circuits in the brain, and how optogenetics is impacting the study of cognition.
The amygdala is important for emotional memory, including learned fear. A number of studies for amygdala neural circuits that underlie fear conditioning have elucidated specific cellular and molecular mechanisms of emotional memory. Recent technical advances such as optogenetic approaches have not only confirmed the importance of excitatory circuits in fear conditioning, but have also shed new light for a direct role of inhibitory circuits in both the acquisition and extinction of fear memory in addition to their role in fine tuning of excitatory neural circuitry. As a result, the circuits in amygdala could be drawn more elaborately, and it led us to understand how fear or extinction memories are formed in the detailed circuit level, and various neuromodulators affect these circuit activities, inducing subtle behavioral changes.
neural circuits; inhibitory neurons; amygdala; fear; extinction
Anxiety, a sustained state of heightened apprehension in the absence of immediate threat, becomes severely debilitating in disease states1. Anxiety disorders represent the most common of psychiatric diseases (28% lifetime prevalence)2, and contribute to the etiology of major depression and substance abuse3,4. Although it has been proposed that the amygdala, a brain region important for emotional processing5–8, has a role in anxiety9–13, neural mechanisms that control anxiety remain unclear. Here we explore neural circuits underlying anxiety-related behaviors by using optogenetics with two-photon microscopy, anxiety assays in freely moving mice, and electrophysiology. With the capability of optogenetics14–16 to control not only cell types but also specific connections between cells, we observed that temporally precise optogenetic stimulation of basolateral amygdala (BLA) terminals in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA-achieved by viral transduction of the BLA with a codon-optimized channelrhodopsin followed by restricted illumination in downstream CeA - exerted an acute, reversible anxiolytic effect. Conversely, selective optogenetic inhibition of the same projection with a third-generation halorhodopsin15 (eNpHR3.0) increased anxiety-related behaviors. Importantly, these effects were not observed with direct optogenetic control of BLA somata, possibly owing to recruitment of antagonistic downstream structures. Together, these results implicate specific BLA-CeA projections as critical circuit elements for acute anxiety control in the mammalian brain, and demonstrate the importance of optogenetically targeting defined projections, beyond simply targeting cell types, in the study of circuit function relevant to neuropsychiatric disease.
Optical manipulation of neuronal activity has rapidly developed into the most powerful and widely used approach to study mechanisms related to neuronal connectivity over a range of scales. Since the early use of single site uncaging to map network connectivity, rapid technological development of light modulation techniques has added important new options, such as fast scanning photostimulation, massively parallel control of light stimuli, holographic uncaging, and two-photon stimulation techniques. Exciting new developments in optogenetics complement neurotransmitter uncaging techniques by providing cell-type specificity and in vivo usability, providing optical access to the neural substrates of behavior. Here we review the rapid evolution of methods for the optical manipulation of neuronal activity, emphasizing crucial recent developments.
caged compounds; light-sensitive ion channels; optical stimulation; optogenetics; digital light processing; spatiotemporal activity; synchrony
Purkinje cells (PCs) are the sole output neurons of the cerebellar cortex. Although their anatomical connections and physiological response properties have been extensively studied, the causal role of their activity in behavioral, cognitive and autonomic functions is still unclear because PC activity cannot be selectively controlled. Here we developed a novel technique using optogenetics for selective and rapidly reversible manipulation of PC activity in vivo. We injected into rat cerebellar cortex lentiviruses expressing either the light-activated cationic channel channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) or light-driven chloride pump halorhodopsin (eNpHR) under the control of the PC-specific L7 promoter. Transgene expression was observed in most PCs (ChR2, 92.6%; eNpHR, 95.3%), as determined by immunohistochemical analysis. In vivo electrophysiological recordings showed that all light-responsive PCs in ChR2-transduced rats increased frequency of simple spike in response to blue laser illumination. Similarly, most light-responsive PCs (93.8%) in eNpHR-transduced rats decreased frequency of simple spike in response to orange laser illumination. We then applied these techniques to characterize the roles of rat cerebellar uvula, one of the cardiovascular regulatory regions in the cerebellum, in resting blood pressure (BP) regulation in anesthetized rats. ChR2-mediated photostimulation and eNpHR-mediated photoinhibition of the uvula had opposite effects on resting BP, inducing depressor and pressor responses, respectively. In contrast, manipulation of PC activity within the neighboring lobule VIII had no effect on BP. Blue and orange laser illumination onto PBS-injected lobule IX didn't affect BP, indicating the observed effects on BP were actually due to PC activation and inhibition. These results clearly demonstrate that the optogenetic method we developed here will provide a powerful way to elucidate a causal relationship between local PC activity and functions of the cerebellum.
Labeling of neurons and monitoring their activity with genetically encoded fluorescent reporters have been a staple of neuroscience research for several years. More recently, photoswitchable ion channels and pumps, such as channelrhodopsin (ChR2), halorhodopsin (NpHR), and light-gated glutamate receptor (LiGluR), have been introduced that allow for the remote optical manipulation of neuronal activity. The expanding optogenetic toolbox is finding important applications in the translucent brains of zebrafish. Enhancer and gene trapping approaches have generated hundreds of Gal4 driver lines in which the expression of UAS-linked effectors can be targeted to subpopulations of neurons. Local photoactivation of genetically targeted LiGluR, ChR2, or NpHR has uncovered novel functions for specific areas and cell types in zebrafish behavior. Because the manipulation is restricted to times and places where genetics (cell types) and optics (beams of light) intersect, this method affords superior resolving power for the functional analysis of neural circuitry.
The ability to optically excite or silence specific cells using optogenetics has provided a powerful tool to interrogate the nervous system. Optogenetic experiments in small organisms have mostly been performed using whole-field illumination and genetic targeting, but these strategies do not always provide adequate cellular specificity. Targeted illumination can be a valuable alternative but to date it has only been shown in non-moving animals without the ability to observe behavior output. We present a real-time multimodal illumination technology that allows both tracking and recording the behavior of freely moving Caenorhabditis elegans while stimulating specific cells that express Channelrhodopsin-2 or MAC. We use this system to optically manipulate nodes within the C. elegans touch circuit and study the roles of sensory and command neurons and the ultimate behavioral output. This technology significantly enhances our ability to control, alter, observe, and investigate how neurons, muscles, and circuits ultimately produce behavior in animals using optogenetics.
The conditional expression of transgenes at high levels in sparse and specific populations of neurons is important for high-resolution optogenetic analyses of neuronal circuits. We explored two complementary methods, viral gene delivery and the iTet-Off system, to express transgenes in the brain of zebrafish. High-level gene expression in neurons was achieved by Sindbis and Rabies viruses. The Tet system produced strong and specific gene expression that could be modulated conveniently by doxycycline. Moreover, transgenic lines showed expression in distinct, sparse and stable populations of neurons that appeared to be subsets of the neurons targeted by the promoter driving the Tet-activator. The Tet system therefore provides the opportunity to generate libraries of diverse expression patterns similar to gene trap approaches or the thy-1 promoter in mice, but with the additional possibility to pre-select cell types of interest. In transgenic lines expressing channelrhodopsin-2, action potential firing could be precisely controlled by two-photon stimulation at low laser power, presumably because the expression levels of the Tet-controlled genes were high even in adults. In channelrhodopsin-2-expressing larvae, optical stimulation with a single blue LED evoked distinct swimming behaviors including backward swimming. These approaches provide new opportunities for the optogenetic dissection of neuronal circuit structure and function.
zebrafish; Tet system; viral gene transfer; channelrhodopsin; olfactory bulb; optogenetics; multiphoton
Epilepsy is a devastating disease, currently treated with medications, surgery or electrical stimulation. None of these approaches is totally effective and our ability to control seizures remains limited and complicated by frequent side effects. The emerging revolutionary technique of optogenetics enables manipulation of the activity of specific neuronal populations in vivo with exquisite spatiotemporal resolution using light. We used optogenetic approaches to test the role of hippocampal excitatory neurons in the lithium-pilocarpine model of acute elicited seizures in awake behaving rats. Hippocampal pyramidal neurons were transduced in vivo with a virus carrying an enhanced halorhodopsin (eNpHR), a yellow light activated chloride pump, and acute seizure progression was then monitored behaviorally and electrophysiologically in the presence and absence of illumination delivered via an optical fiber. Inhibition of those neurons with illumination prior to seizure onset significantly delayed electrographic and behavioral initiation of status epilepticus, and altered the dynamics of ictal activity development. These results reveal an essential role of hippocampal excitatory neurons in this model of ictogenesis and illustrate the power of optogenetic approaches for elucidation of seizure mechanisms. This early success in controlling seizures also suggests future therapeutic avenues.
Manipulation of neuronal activity through genetically targeted actuator molecules is a powerful approach for studying information flow in the brain. In these approaches the genetically targeted component, a receptor or a channel, is activated either by a small molecule (chemical genetics) or by light from a physical source (optogenetics). We developed a hybrid technology that allows control of the same neurons by both optogenetic and chemical genetic means. The approach is based on engineered chimeric fusions of a light-generating protein (luciferase) to a light-activated ion channel (channelrhodopsin). Ionic currents then can be activated by bioluminescence upon activation of luciferase by its substrate, coelenterazine (CTZ), as well as by external light. In cell lines, expression of the fusion of Gaussia luciferase to Channelrhodopsin-2 yielded photocurrents in response to CTZ. Larger photocurrents were produced by fusing the luciferase to Volvox Channelrhodopsin-1. This version allowed chemical modulation of neuronal activity when expressed in cultured neurons: CTZ treatment shifted neuronal responses to injected currents and sensitized neurons to fire action potentials in response to subthreshold synaptic inputs. These luminescent channelrhodopsins - or luminopsins – preserve the advantages of light-activated ion channels, while extending their capabilities. Our proof-of-principle results suggest that this novel class of tools can be improved and extended in numerous ways.
The olfactory system encodes information about molecules by spatiotemporal patterns of activity across distributed populations of neurons and extracts information from these patterns to control specific behaviors. Recent studies used in vivo recordings, optogenetics, and other methods to analyze the mechanisms by which odor information is encoded and processed in the olfactory system, the functional connectivity within and between olfactory brain areas, and the impact of spatiotemporal patterning of neuronal activity on higher-order neurons and behavioral outputs. The results give rise to a faceted picture of olfactory processing and provide insights into fundamental mechanisms underlying neuronal computations. This review focuses on some of this work presented in a Mini-Symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2012.