Researchers from Institut Pasteur in Paris, France have devised a method to photo activate newly formed neurons in adult animal models. The optogenetic technique involves the production of light sensitive proteins within neurons that can then be activated using focused light.
Until now the existing methods of stimulation did not permit this. Electrical stimulation affects all cells without discrimination and chemical stimulation concerns only neurons mature enough to have surface receptors for active molecules.
By introducing and inducing expression of photo-sensitive proteins in new neurons, the scientists have been able to control their activity with the use of luminescent flashes. Using this technique, researchers at the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS have been able to observe, stimulate, and specifically record the activity of new nerve cells. They have brought proof that new neurons formed in the olfactory bulb of the adult brain are integrated into preexisting nervous circuits. They have also shown that, against all expectations, the number of contacts between young cells and their target cells greatly increased over several months.
More from Centre national de la recherche scientifique: The brain : light-controlled neo-neuron…
Abstract in The Journal of Neuroscience: How, When, and Where New Inhibitory Neurons Release Neurotransmitters in the Adult Olfactory Bulb