Optogenetics is a technique that uses light to switch on and off neurons in the brain that have been previously genetically engineered to be light-sensitive. Now, Northwestern University neurobiologist Genia Kozorovitskiy and her colleagues have used optogenetics to control the social behavior of mice. The mice are outfitted with brain implants and back-mounted electronics. The researchers can wirelessly control four different color LEDs that activate or suppress four neural circuits in the animals' prefontal cortex. From Science News:
In experiments with mice, Kozorovitskiy and colleagues used the devices to target the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain linked with decision making and other complex behaviors. When the team delivered similar patterns of neural stimulation in this area to pairs or trios of mice, the rodents groomed and sniffed companions with whom their neurons were in sync more often than ones with whom they were out of sync. The findings support previous research suggesting this kind of synchrony between minds can boost social behavior, "particularly cooperative interactions," Kozorovitskiy says.