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Science 326 (5951): 395-399

Copyright © 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The Optogenetic Catechism

Gero Miesenböck

Abstract: An emerging set of methods enables an experimental dialogue with biological systems composed of many interacting cell types—in particular, with neural circuits in the brain. These methods are sometimes called "optogenetic" because they use light-responsive proteins ("opto-") encoded in DNA ("-genetic"). Optogenetic devices can be introduced into tissues or whole organisms by genetic manipulation and be expressed in anatomically or functionally defined groups of cells. Two kinds of devices perform complementary functions: Light-driven actuators control electrochemical signals, while light-emitting sensors report them. Actuators pose questions by delivering targeted perturbations; sensors (and other measurements) signal answers. These catechisms are beginning to yield previously unattainable insight into the organization of neural circuits, the regulation of their collective dynamics, and the causal relationships between cellular activity patterns and behavior.

Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PT, UK. E-mail: gero.miesenboeck{at}

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