Sonogenetics – non-invasive neural control by sound

Sonogenetics is a technique that allows non invasive activation of specific neurons.  This is not totally new, but significantly different from similar results were obtained through light-sensitive neurons for a few years.  Let’s recap:

First you have to decide which neurons you plan to interact with.  Not trivial, especially if you consider how extensive and intricate neural mappings and brain networks can be – currently beyond scientific precision.

Then you genetic engineer such neurons so that they develop certain features (misexpression of TRP-4 protein channel if you ask) that react to ultrasound stimulus.

And then, you make sure you are able to produce and transmit ultrasound to those neurons in a controlled way.  In this point there is a major advance compared to light stimulation, for you don’t have to place a light source directly at the neuron population.

And voila – ultrasound transmission remotely control neural activity.

Scientists Stuart Ibsen, Ada Tong, Carolyn Schutt, Sadik Esener & Sreekanth H. Chalasani published an article describing how they did it.  Of course, in a much more accurate manner.  And initial results were tested in a nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (a small worm) but implications and potential are very promising.

Far from the initial experiment results of controlling the movements of a worm, many nervous system treatments and deeper understanding of brain mechanisms may benefit from further developments.