Brain On/Off switch

MIT Technology Review reports that researchers at the Stanford Medical Center developed a novel method that switches different parts of the brain on and off. This research is an effort to provide a tool that one day can be used as a treatment option for people with different psychiatric problems.While scientists know something about the chemical imbalances underlying depression, it's still unclear exactly which cells, or networks of cells, are responsible for it. In order to identify the circuits involved in such diseases, scientists must be able to turn neurons on and off.They adapted a protein from a green alga to act as an "on switch" that neurons can be genetically engineered to produce. When the neuron is exposed to light, the protein triggers electrical activity within the cell that spreads to the next neuron in the circuit. Researchers can thus use light to activate certain neurons and look for specific responses--a twitch of a muscle, increased energy, or a wave of activity in a different part of the brain.

Source: medgadget.comAdded: 5 April 2007