Study explains how light could activate neurons
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Recent advances that combined chemical applications with neurobiological techniques enabled the use of light as a trigger to turn on specific neurons by activating selected synapses.

Chemical groups that effectively leashed active molecules like glutamate (a key molecule in learning and memory) helped control nerve signals by keeping them in an off state. On-demand, targeted light can unleash the active molecules that lead to turning on neurons, and thus pathways of interest. The key to the success of this procedure is intricately dependent on the efficacy of light at breaking molecular bonds.

Previously, there was little known on the precise mechanism by which light can induce the unleashing of a certain class of molecules referred to as NitroIndolinyl (NI), which represent some of the most efficient light-responsive molecules.

The research groups have now been able to conduct accurate computational studies that revealed important details of how bonds break to release active molecules. This is extremely valuable to enable future designs of other molecules that can modulate brain signals. This broader understanding of light's ability to induce this type of chemical bond cleavage will lead to building systems that are far more sensitive to light, requiring smaller amounts of such agents and thereby minimizing any interference with other, neighboring neurons.

"Light emerged in recent years as a powerful tool in neuroscience," the author said. "We noted that there was an unusual path that combined two well-known photochemical processes that have never been observed to occur simultaneously before, until this study. This is an exciting finding in the world of photochemistry."

Scientific Reports