Sounding Out the Brain

January 16, 2019
Hertz Staff

Optogenetics – using focused light to stimulate genetically engineered cells – has changed neuroscience forever by allowing the precise study and manipulation of individual neurons. But it’s an invasive process, requiring that the light be guided and focused on the right spot by fibers inserted into the tissue under study.

Hertz Fellow Mikhail Shapiro is among the leaders of a new field, so-called “sonogenetics,” which uses ultrasound pulses to heat, jiggle, and push cells non-invasively. In some cases, neurons can be stimulated by the right pulses without genetic engineering. “This has the potential to provide the core capability of optogenetics,” says Shapiro, “but now you can do it noninvasively in deep tissues.”

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