Towards Optogenetic Sensory Replacement

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Doroudchi, M. M., Greenberg, K. P., Zorzos, A. N., Hauswirth, W. W., Fonstad, C. G., Horsager, A., Boyden, E. S. (2011) Towards Optogenetic Sensory Replacement, Conference Proceedings of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society 2011:3139-41.

Over the last several years we have developed a rapidly-expanding suite of genetically-encoded reagents (e.g., ChR2, Halo, Arch, Mac, and others) that, when expressed in specific neuron types in the nervous system, enable their activities to be powerfully and precisely activated and silenced in response to light. If the genes that encode for these reagents can be delivered to cells in the body using gene therapy methods, and if the resultant protein payloads operate safely and effectively over therapeutically important periods of time, these molecules could subserve a set of precise prosthetics that use light as the trigger of information entry into the nervous system, e.g. for sensory replacement. Here we discuss the use of ChR2 to make the photoreceptor-deprived retina, as found in diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, sensitive to light, enabling restoration of functional vision in a mouse model of blindness. We also discuss arrays of light sources that could be useful for delivering patterned sensory information into the nervous system.