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Keywords:

  • channelrhodopsin;
  • neuron;
  • optogenetics

Optogenetic manipulation of the neuronal activity enables one to analyze the neuronal network both in vivo and in vitro with precise spatio-temporal resolution. Channelrhodopsins (ChRs) are light-sensitive cation channels that depolarize the cell membrane, whereas halorhodopsins and archaerhodopsins are light-sensitive Cl and H+ transporters, respectively, that hyperpolarize it when exogenously expressed. The cause-effect relationship between a neuron and its function in the brain is thus bi-directionally investigated with evidence of necessity and sufficiency. In this review we discuss the potential of optogenetics with a focus on three major requirements for its application: (i) selection of the light-sensitive proteins optimal for optogenetic investigation, (ii) targeted expression of these selected proteins in a specific group of neurons, and (iii) targeted irradiation with high spatiotemporal resolution. We also discuss recent progress in the application of optogenetics to studies of non-neural cells such as glial cells, cardiac and skeletal myocytes. In combination with stem cell technology, optogenetics may be key to successful research using embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from human patients through optical regulation of differentiation-maturation, through optical manipulation of tissue transplants and, furthermore, through facilitating survival and integration of transplants.