2014 Scientific Innovations Award
Christopher I. Moore, Ph.D.
Department of Neuroscience
A “burst” is a brief period of high-frequency activity in a neuron, an event that can have a powerful impact on brain circuits. Overly-exuberant bursting—for example, when bursts occur repeatedly in the same cell at a high rate—is thought to be a major contributor to symptoms in diseases like Parkinson’s or epilepsy. Here, Dr. Moore and his lab describe a set of studies to test a new method by which cells can detect and regulate their own bursting. They employ a natural form of light production— bioluminescence—to have individual cells signal when they express a burst. These ‘emitters’ are paired with optogenetic sensors, elements that sit in the cell membrane and decrease burst probability when they detect light. Using this entirely biological strategy, cells can provide their own ‘deep brain stimulation,’ changing ongoing activity only when they detect they are entering into a maladaptive pattern, obviating the need for chronic electrode implants. Such self-regulation could lead to new strategies for treating altered activity patterns in disease, and would be a powerful tool for testing the impact of these activity patterns on behavior and/or brain circuit function.