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Hippocampus. 2018 Jul;28(7):457-470. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22960.

Optogenetic stimulation: Understanding memory and treating deficits.

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Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 8041, New Zealand.
Brain Research New Zealand, New Zealand.
New Zealand Brain Research Institute, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical Science, Brain Health Research Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Technology allowing genetically targeted cells to be modulated by light has revolutionized neuroscience in the past decade, and given rise to the field of optogenetic stimulation. For this, non-native, light activated proteins (e.g., channelrhodopsin) are expressed in a specific cell phenotype (e.g., glutamatergic neurons) in a subset of central nervous system nuclei, and short pulses of light of a narrow wavelength (e.g., blue, 473 nm) are used to modulate cell activity. Cell activity can be increased or decreased depending on which light activated protein is used. We review how the greater precision provided by optogenetics has transformed the study of neural circuits, in terms of cognition and behavior, with a focus on learning and memory. We also explain how optogenetic modulation is facilitating a better understanding of the mechanistic underpinnings of some neurological and psychiatric conditions. Based on this research, we suggest that optogenetics may provide tools to improve memory in neurological conditions, particularly diencephalic amnesia and Alzheimer's disease.


Alzheimer's disease; amnesia; anterior thalamic nucleus; mediodorsal thalamus; nucleus reuniens


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