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Home / News / Karl Deisseroth and colleagues develop new tool for watching and controlling neural activity

Karl Deisseroth and colleagues develop new tool for watching and controlling neural activity

NOMIS Awardee Karl Deisseroth and colleague Alice Ting, together with their research teams, have developed a molecular probe that could lead to a better understanding of the cellular basis of behavior.

Stanford researchers develop new tool for watching and controlling neural activity


Karl Deisseroth

A new molecular probe from Stanford University could help reveal how our brains think and remember. This tool, called Fast Light and Calcium-Regulated Expression or FLiCRE (pronounced “flicker”), can be sent inside any cell to perform a variety of research tasks, including tagging, recording and controlling cellular functions.

“This work gets at a central goal of neuroscience: How do you find the system of neurons that underlie a thought or cognitive process? Neuroscientists have been wanting this type of tool for a long time,” said Alice Ting, professor of genetics in the Stanford School of Medicine and of biology in the School of Humanities and sciences, whose team co-led this work with the lab of Stanford psychiatrist and bioengineer, Karl Deisseroth.

In proof-of-concept experiments, detailed in a paper published Dec. 11 in Cell, the researchers used FLiCRE to take a snapshot of neural activity associated with avoidance behavior in mice. By coupling the FLiCRE snapshot with RNA sequencing, they discovered that these activated neurons primarily belonged to a single cell type, which was inaccessible using genetic tools alone. They then used FLiCRE in combination with an opsin – a protein for controlling neural activity with light developed by Deisseroth – to reactivate those same neurons a day later, which led the mice to avoid entering a certain room. The brain region the researchers studied, called the nucleus accumbens, is thought to play an important role in human psychiatric diseases, including depression.

Continue reading this Standford release

Read the Cell publication


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D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Stanford Medicine
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