Brain and behavior disorders are increasingly considered to be caused by altered functioning in the circuitry of the brain. Now known to be a vast and sophisticated network, the circuitry of the brain has proven elusive for scientists attempting to understand its ‘language’ and correct its dysfunction. A great step forward was made in 2005 when Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University used his NARSAD Young Investigator Grant to invent optogenetics. Optogenetics is a new technology that uses light to make neurons fire one at a time, giving researchers extraordinary control over specific brain circuits in living animals. Thanks to optogenetics, neuroscientists can go beyond observing correlations between the activity of neurons and an animal’s behavior; by turning particular neurons on or off at will, they can prove that those neurons actually govern the behavior.
A recent special issue of Biological Psychiatry was dedicated to understanding the impact of optogenetics on psychiatry. Now in use at over 1,000 laboratories, this method is enabling the identification of the mechanisms that give rise to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other brain and behavior disorders.
Donations to HIKE for Mental Health help to support NARSAD grants and this type of important research.