Scientists discover 'off switch' for brain


Researchers say they've been able to develop an "off switch" for brains using light pulses.

Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute used a technique known as "optogenetics" to shut off certain neurons in the brains cultured from rats. It's the reversal of a process first discovered in 2005 — when flashes of light were able to turn on neurons.

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Researchers developed two new proteins which can be added to neurons in the brain. The MIT Technology Review explains those neurons then shut off when reacting to small light pulses.

But why would you want to shut off neurons in a human brain?

The Independent reports perfecting the "optogenetics" process could eventually help treat different neurological disorders like epilepsy.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health funded the research and said the development "... is like going from a squirt to a gushing hose."

And a scientist from Rockefeller University told The New York Times, "Optogenetics is the most revolutionary thing that has happened in neuroscience in the past couple of decades."  

Scientists say they are hopeful the study's findings can help them improve work on animals like rats and even primates.

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