Stimulating brain cells with light to combat Parkinson’s disease

October 29, 2012

An optogenetic approach in epilepsy for seizure control in epilepsy, using genes that express light-sensitive proteins in specific neurons (Credit: Merab Kokaia, My Andersson, Marco Ledri/Neuropharmacology)

Lund University researchers plan to use optogenetics to stimulate neurons to release more dopamine to combat Parkinson’s disease.

Optogenetics allows scientists to control specific cells in the brain using light, leaving other cells unaffected.

To do this, the relevant cells are equipped with genes that express a special light-sensitive protein. The protein switches on cells when they are illuminated with light from a thin optic fiber implanted in the brain.

“If we get signals as a response to light from the host brain, we know that they come from the transplanted cells since they are the only ones to carry the light-sensitive protein. This gives us a much more specific way of studying the brain’s reactions than inserting an electrode, which is the current method. With an electrode, we do not know whether the electric signals that are detected come from “new” or “old” brain cells,” explains professor Merab Kokaia..

The work will be conducted on laboratory rats modelling Parkinson’s disease. The transplanted cells will be derived from skin from an adult human and “reprogrammed” as nerve cells.

The research is funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.