Il cervello si può controllare con l’optogenetica (un filone di ricerca che combina l’intervento genetico su particolari neuroni o proteine e la tecnologia ottica per osservare o modificare il comportamento in circuiti neurali viventi con la velocità necessaria, nell’ordine dei millisecondi). Una ricerca realizzata tra Lovanio, Mit e Harvard ha dimostrato che si può controllare il comportamento delle scimmie con impulsi di luce. Ecco il comunicato e il link all’articolo:
Researchers from the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Harvard and MIT have shown for the first time that they can successfully control the behaviour of monkeys by using light pulses to activate very specific parts of the brain. In the long term, a similar method could possibly be used for therapeutic treatments in humans with neurological disorders.
The researchers were able to control the behaviour of the monkeys using optogenetics, a state-of-the-art method for artificially steering brain activity in order to influence behaviour. In optogenetics, genes derived from certain light-sensitive microorganisms are inserted into brain cells or neurons. These genes code for light-sensitive proteins that are expressed in the neurons, which can then be ‘controlled’ by activating these neurons with short pulses of light. The advantage of this method is that it allows for the activation of very specific cell types without affecting others. Unlike more traditional methods such as electrical microstimulation, which is now being used in Parkinson’s patients, this technique allows scientists to manipulate the activity of certain networks in the brain with very high spatial and temporal precision.
The method has already proved its effectiveness in invertebrates, rodents and cell lines, but this is the first time it has been successfully tested on behaving monkeys. The researchers focused on manipulating the neurons in the network that controls eye movement. Using blue light pulses, they were able to activate very localised neurons in this network to bring about subtle changes in eye movements.
The findings are very promising for both further fundamental research into the link between brain activity in specific neural networks, and the study of perception, cognition, and behaviour. In humans, the method could possibly be used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.
The research was published in the journal Current Biology.