A drug-like molecule called “optovin” has been found to let researchers control movements in mice and fish with flashes of light.
Unlike similar experiments using a light-based technique known as optogenetics, to achieve the neural control, the new method doesn’t require researchers to genetically engineer animals, MIT Technology Review reports.
The techniques is a powerful research tools for understanding the brain, and may one day be used therapeutically.
The researchers used light to control neuronal activity in unmodified animals. Fish given optovin will move around very quickly in response to a flash of light, report Massachusetts General Hospital’s David Kokel and colleagues.
The team found that optovin docks onto a specific kind of protein channel that sits in the membrane of nerve cells that are the first to respond to pain. Researchers could use optovin in experiments to study pain; they also think it could be useful in treating pain, says Kokel.
“If you over-activate these channels, they become desensitized,” he says.