Published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 2013
The advent of optogenetics and genetically encoded photosensors has provided neuroscience researchers with a wealth of new tools and methods for examining and manipulating neuronal function in vivo. There exists now a wide range of experimentally validated protein tools capable of modifying cellular function, including light-gated ion channels, recombinant light-gated G protein-coupled receptors, and even neurotransmitter receptors modified with tethered photo-switchable ligands. A large number of genetically encoded protein sensors have also been developed to optically track cellular activity in real time, including membrane-voltage-sensitive fluorophores and fluorescent calcium and pH indicators. The development of techniques for controlled expression of these proteins has also increased their utility by allowing the study of specific populations of cells. Additionally, recent advances in optics technology have enabled both activation and observation of target proteins with high spatiotemporal fidelity. In combination, these methods have great potential in the study of neural circuits and networks, behavior, animal models of disease, as well as in high-throughput ex vivo studies. This review collects some of these new tools and methods and surveys several current and future applications of the evolving field of optophysiology.