Optogenetics and Autism – Is this a new treatment paradigm ?

Fascinating article in Discovery magazine surrounding optogenetics … could it be used to develop treatment regimes in autism or aspects of autism ?

Controlling Brains With a Flick of a Light Switch


Using the new science of optogenetics, scientists can activate or shut down neural pathways, altering behavior and heralding a true cure for psychiatric disease.

by Amy Barth

“Stopped at a red light on his drive home from work, Karl Deisseroth contemplates one of his patients, a woman with depression so entrenched that she had been unresponsive to drugs and electroshock therapy for years. The red turns to green and Deisseroth accelerates, navigating roads and intersections with one part of his mind while another part considers a very different set of pathways that also can be regulated by a system of lights. In his lab at Stanford University’s Clark Center, Deisseroth is developing a remarkable way to switch brain cells off and on by exposing them to targeted green, yellow, or blue flashes. With that ability, he is learning how to regulate the flow of information in the brain.

Deisseroth’s technique, known broadly as optogenetics, could bring new hope to his most desperate patients. In a series of provocative experiments, he has already cured the symptoms of psychiatric disease in mice. Optogenetics also shows promise for defeating drug addiction. When Deisseroth exposed a set of test mice to cocaine and then flipped a switch, pulsing bright yellow light into their brains, the expected rush of euphoria—the prelude to addiction—was instantly blocked. Almost miraculously, they were immune to the cocaine high; the mice left the drug den as uninterested as if they had never been exposed.”

Read the rest of the article at link – Discovery Optogenetics


Further Readings

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D.


A full CV and many full papers presented in PDF format.


Optogenetic dissection of cortical information processing-shining light on schizophrenia.


Since optogenetics was introduced in 2005, fundamental progress has been made in our understanding of the neural processes central to higher-order functions such as perception, cognition and emotion. Until the inception of optogenetics, science was lacking neuromodulatory tools that could target specific populations of neurons with the spatial and temporal precision necessary for casually linking neural activity patterns to behavior.

Optogenetics has also provided invaluable insights on the neural circuit elements affected in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and autism. Here we review experiments where optogenetics has been instrumental in adding new information about functions governing cognition, such as information processing. In addition, we review optogenetic findings shedding light on how changed information processing could underlie cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Brain Integration.


Optogenetic insights into social behavior function.


Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel. ofer.yizhar@weizmann.ac.il


Cognitive and social deficits lie at the core of many neuropsychiatric diseases and are among the many behavioral symptoms not amenable to pharmacological intervention.

Despite significant advances in identifying genes potentially involved in the pathogenesis of complex psychiatric conditions such as autism and schizophrenia, knowledge of the physiological functions that are affected (and are therefore potential targets for clinical intervention) is scarce.

In psychiatric disorders with a strong genetic component, animal models have provided important links between disease-related genes and behavioral impairment. Social dysfunction, for instance, is commonly observed in transgenic rodent disease models. However, the causal relationships between the behavioral and physiological abnormalities in these models are not well-understood.

Optogenetic techniques have evolved to provide a wide range of experimental paradigms in which neural circuit activity can be perturbed with high spatial and temporal precision, enabling causal investigation of the function of defined physiological events in neuronal subgroups. With optogenetics, researchers have begun to elucidate the basic neural mechanisms of social behaviors and of disease-relevant social and cognitive dysfunction.

The synthesis of optogenetic technology with genetic animal models will allow forward- and reverse-engineering approaches to investigating the neural correlates of psychiatric disease. This review outlines the neural systems known to be involved in social behavior, illustrates how optogenetic technology has been applied to analyze this circuitry, and imagines how it might be further developed in future studies to elucidate these complex circuits both from a basic science perspective and in the context of psychiatric disease.

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