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Controlling Brains With a Flick of a Light Switch
October 2, 2012 12:17 AM   Subscribe

Mice are naturally fearful of exploring open spaces, where they are vulnerable to predators. When placed in Tye’s four-armed maze, they would spend most of their time in the two arms protected by high walls, occasionally poking a nose out to explore. But when Tye switched on the light and activated the circuit in her subject’s brain, the mouse ventured out, exploring the open part of the maze with no visible anxiety.
posted by latkes (11 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Optogenetics also shows promise for defeating drug addiction. When Deisseroth exposed a set of test mice to cocaine and then flipped a switch, pulsing bright yellow light into their brains, the expected rush of euphoria—the prelude to addiction—was instantly blocked. Almost miraculously, they were immune to the cocaine high; the mice left the drug den as uninterested as if they had never been exposed.

Fortunately this yellow light kryptonite does not work on blind mice.
posted by three blind mice at 1:22 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Too bad Disney bought Marvel and not DC. Sinestro could have finally gotten Mickey down from that white horse.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:35 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. I'm always skeptical of science claims in popular press, but this sounds both fascinating and compelling. I do have to admit however that my thought on reading through it was the Nerve Stapling option in Alpha Centauri.
posted by meinvt at 4:45 AM on October 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


If only Michel Foucault were alive to see this.

I'm looking forward to the day that Google begins integrating this technology into their AdSense program. The corporate/consumer advertising interface is so crude and prone to systemic inefficiency that it's just begging for optimization. Based on a person's Google search history and the generation of user-specific AdWords, a system could be created that ran in the background, awaiting the user's autonomous initiation of a pre-transactional browsing event. When such a state was entered, and the AdSense algorithm confirmed that the pre-transaction conformed with corporate sales targets, individual fiscal capability, and the user's prior history of purchasing goals, this technology could then deliver a targeted pulse of light directly to the frontal lobe, overriding impulse inhibition and initiating the transaction. The value generated by this system for corporate clients would be tremendous. At the user's end, however, this would be experienced as a sort of magic. Desire something and immediately it belongs to you.

Finally, Eden would be ours again.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:15 AM on October 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Far too many people ignore the "-genetics" part of "optogenetics". IMO, even though I stay away from the cellular side of neuroscience, that's the much more fascinating part. It's the genetically-modified proteins that are doing the work, not the lasers. Still: LASERS.

My lab does a lot of research that, in essence, takes animal techniques and applies them to human research. (Implanted ECoG electrodes, cognitive DBS studies.) In a recent chalk talk on optogenetics in my lab, a new grad student asked, "So... has this been tried in human patients yet?"

The groans could be heard for miles.
posted by supercres at 5:57 AM on October 2, 2012


Optogenetics, cool. As someone who indexes neuroscience journals (among others), I'm seeing more and more fun stuff like this come over my desk.

Here's a nice commentary from Nature methods, too, for those that are interested.
posted by gaspode at 6:51 AM on October 2, 2012


If only Michel Foucault were alive to see this.

This was the part of the story that got me: If Deisseroth can control the brains of mice with light, what is to stop human mind control? The most cogent answer is this: Creating transgenic people by sending a retrovirus into healthy brains will never be allowed.

Ha ha ha!!
posted by latkes at 7:07 AM on October 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


So, wait, they're able to make a mouse go out into the open with now fear or anxiety. Isn't this the very same behavior that they use to show that T. gondii causes schizophrenia?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:48 AM on October 2, 2012


If Deisseroth can control the brains of mice with light, what is to stop human mind control? The most cogent answer is this: Creating transgenic people by sending a retrovirus into healthy brains will never be allowed.

If you're willing to assume people will obey all the rules, then a) they won't make a laser-activated mind-control virus when they're told not to, and b) why would they need to make a laser-activated mind-control virus if people already do what they're told to?
posted by aubilenon at 12:38 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't this the very same behavior that they use to show that T. gondii causes schizophrenia?

It's the same behavior that they used to provocatively hint, speculate, and imply that Toxoplasmosis causes schizophrenia (I've also heard bipolar), but never actually really... showed. It's all just pure epidemiological correlation right now.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:09 PM on October 2, 2012


While the author carefully notes that this is a long way from being a functioning therapy for anything, the nature of the pop science article is to suggest that some interesting lab research is imminently about to change the world.
posted by thelonius at 3:43 AM on October 3, 2012


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