Near-infrared deep brain stimulation via upconversion nanoparticle–mediated optogenetics

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Science  09 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6376, pp. 679-684
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1144

Stimulating deep inside the brain

Noninvasive deep brain stimulation is an important goal in neuroscience and neuroengineering. Optogenetics normally requires the use of a blue laser inserted into the brain. Chen et al. used specialized nanoparticles that can upconvert near-infrared light from outside the brain into the local emission of blue light (see the Perspective by Feliu et al.). They injected these nanoparticles into the ventral tegmental area of the mouse brain and activated channelrhodopsin expressed in dopaminergic neurons with near-infrared light generated outside the skull at a distance of several millimeters. This technique allowed distant near-infrared light to evoke fast increases in dopamine release. The method was also used successfully to evoke fear memories in the dentate gyrus during fear conditioning.

Science, this issue p. 679; see also p. 633


Optogenetics has revolutionized the experimental interrogation of neural circuits and holds promise for the treatment of neurological disorders. It is limited, however, because visible light cannot penetrate deep inside brain tissue. Upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) absorb tissue-penetrating near-infrared (NIR) light and emit wavelength-specific visible light. Here, we demonstrate that molecularly tailored UCNPs can serve as optogenetic actuators of transcranial NIR light to stimulate deep brain neurons. Transcranial NIR UCNP-mediated optogenetics evoked dopamine release from genetically tagged neurons in the ventral tegmental area, induced brain oscillations through activation of inhibitory neurons in the medial septum, silenced seizure by inhibition of hippocampal excitatory cells, and triggered memory recall. UCNP technology will enable less-invasive optical neuronal activity manipulation with the potential for remote therapy.

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