Optogenetics is a neuroscience method that lets you fire neurons with the flick of a light switch. Neurons are not typically persuaded to fire when light is shined on them, but the expression of light-gated ion channels such as channelrhodopsins (ChRs) makes them light-responsive. When light shines on excitatory channelrhodopsin-expressing neurons, the channelrhodopsins respond by opening and allowing an influx of ions into the neuron which generates an action potential (Figure 1). This light-induced excitation can take place in a tissue culture dish but can also happen in real-time inside a mouse’s brain.
But the brain is a tricky organ to access, which often forces scientists to use invasive measures to perform in vivo optogenetic experiments. Intracranial injections of AAV are commonly used to deliver channelrhodopsins to the brain. This delivery route concentrates lots of channelrhodopsins in one region of the brain, which is needed since current channelrhodopsins tools have low conductance, but also confines channelrhodopsin activation to a small volume of brain tissue (~1 mm3). Current channelrhodopsins also need high-intensity light for activation which requires implantation of fiber-optic cables into the brain.