Science Note: Monkey Mind Control
Rhesus Monkeys are often used for laboratory experiments.
For years scientists have attempted to find effective treatments for mental disorders like depression and addiction. Thanks to new research using optogenetics that controls monkeys’ motions, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Christy Perera reports.
PERERA: Neurological conditions, such as addiction and depression, are difficult to treat successfully. But research suggests there may be a new tool for combatting such disorders, and we have monkey mind control to thank.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have been experimenting with optogenetics, a methodology that targets neurons in order to control animal behavior. Using optogenetics, these scientists found that they can direct monkey behavior by showing them a series of blue light pulses. These flashes activate specific brain cells that cause the monkeys to move their eyes. This is the first time this method has been shown to alter behavior in monkeys.
Optogenetics works by inserting light-sensitive genes into neurons to make them responsive to light. This experiment targeted neurons that control the monkeys' eye movements. The scientists were able to activate the neurons and monitor the effects with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Once activated, the neurons fired, and caused the monkeys to subtly move their eyes.
Scientists hope this research will help them gain greater insight into how human brains control behavior. Because optogenetics can target very specific types of cells, it offers special promise for disorders that affect discrete areas of the brain, such as Parkinson's disease, addiction and depression.
Researchers hope that ultimately these findings will enable them to see the light and find successful treatments for these conditions. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science, I'm Christy Perera.
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