Power of Brain Stimulation: From Light To Nano

Power of Brain Stimulation: From Light To Nano

By Minttu Kansikas

Artificial brain stimulation has been used to both study and treat certain neurological conditions such as depression, Parkinson’s disease, autism, Tourette syndrome and epilepsy. The current techniques used for brain stimulation include non-invasive electrical and ultrasound stimulation approaches, implanted micro-magnetic stimulation devices and deep brain stimulation approaches. This plethora of stimulation approaches differ in their desired effect and intensity, as well as in key details such as the size and accessibility of the brain area they target. The effectiveness of the stimulation delivery may also vary.

Pre-clinical stage brain stimulation methods used in basic research are understandably even more numerous. Brain stimulation research methods are crucial for understanding brain function and disease as well as for the identification and development of potential therapeutic treatments. While being important tools in basic research, many of such approaches also hold clinical application potential of their own. Of particular interest have been novel minimally-invasive methods with improved efficacy and resolution.

Control Of Brain Activity By Light

One such approach to stimulate neural activity is known as optogenetic stimulation which uses light to control the expression of light sensitive genes in the brain and hence enable the external control of internal physiological processes. Recently, Roy et al. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrated the retrieval of lost memories in Alzheimer’s disease model mice using optogenetic activation of cells associated with memory retrieval. Their research is one among many to demonstrate the research potential of optogenetic stimulation, but more importantly it suggests that it may be possible to treat early stage memory loss associated to Alzheimer’s disease.

The optogenetic technique has been utilized to report exciting basic research findings. However, the introduction of optogenetic neuronal stimulation into clinical use awaits advances in the field of clinical gene therapy methods. This is due to the need to deliver the light responsive gene into target brain cells prior to stimulation.

Can Nanomaterials Be Applied To Brain Stimulation?

For the more distant future, another fascinating approach to overcome the limitations of minimally-invasive brain stimulation methods is the use of highly modifiable nanomaterials. The small nanomaterial particles can also be externally stimulated, by light for example, whilst also overcoming the tissue penetrating limitations of the primary stimulus. In fact, nanoparticle based neurotechnologies are envisioned to be responsive to electric, heat, magnetic, sound or light stimuli at highly modifiable intensities. Nevertheless, current nanoparticle based neurotechnologies still require extensive in vivo experimentation before they can be considered in the clinical context.



Lewis, P.M., Thomson, R.H., Rosenfeld, J.V. & Fitzgerald, P.B. 2016. Brain Neuromodulation Techniques: A Review. Neuroscientist. Apr 29. [Epub ahead of print].

Roy, D.S., Arons, A., Mitchell, T.I., Pignatelli, M., Ryan, T.J. & Tonegawa, S. 2016. Memory retrieval by activating engram cells in mouse models of early Alzheimer’s disease. Nature. 531:508-512.

Wang, Y. & Guo, L. 2016. Nanomaterial-Enabled Neural Stimulation. Front Neurosci. 10:69.

Williams, J.C. & Denison, T. 2013. From optogenetic technologies to neuromodulation therapies. Sci Transl Med. 5:1-4.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com.

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