PerspectiveBiochemistry

Channelrhodopsin reveals its dark secrets

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Science  24 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6366, pp. 1000-1001
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2299

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Summary

A key element of information processing in the brain is the flow of ions across membranes through ion channels. For optogenetic applications, scientists replace these ion channels with the light-gated channels such as the cation channels channelrhodopsin 1 and 2 (ChR1 and ChR2) (1, 2) or more recently discovered anion channels (3). These channels allow remote light-controlled activation and deactivation of excitable cells with high spatiotemporal resolution; desired biological signals such as action potentials can thereby be switched on and off with light (4). On page 10.1126/science.eaan8862 of this issue, Volkov et al. (5) report the high-resolution structures of ChR2 wild type in its dark-adapted state and of a ChR mutant. The structures provide a detailed understanding of site-specific mutations used in optogenetics and will enable the rational design of optimized optogenetic tools.