Neuroscientists are experimenting with switching targeted groups of brain cells on and off using remote-controlled lasers, promising hope for treatment of mental disorders, reports the New York Times. The technique, using cells altered with a photo-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin-2, could one day be used to treat a host of problems from autism to depression.
This light-switch technology will aid scientists in mapping roles for clusters of the brain’s 100 billion neurons. One lead researcher compared the way pockets of a brain are stimulated to play specific functions to a complex musical composition. The functions "arise from the orchestrated participation of the all the different cell types, like a symphony," he said.