How photons can change the wiring of our brains

Where we are today in society

Every day we are making advancements in technology from medicine to rocketry. We continue making some of the wildest and most science fiction sounding ideas that make our minds explode. Millions of ideas going through our brains on what we might see next with this technology. One of those large advancements that are quite new in fact, is able to use photons to change the wiring of your brain. But how does that even work?

How the brain works

So to answer that question we need to first talk about the brain. The brain is the most important organ in the body made out of soft tissue. However, within this soft tissue is what's important to the function of you and me. Almost 100 billion neurons are kept busy managing all the information in the brain through a system of complex electric signals.

Each of these neurons has a small axon nerve fiber which resides at the of end these cells. These activate the electrical signals that pass along information to the other parts of your brain through pathways. These pathways are like switches with two states: Open and Closed. These let the electric signals in your brain flow or not. However what happens when these aren’t working?

Brain malfunctions

When different parts of your computers that you use for work daily have some components working and some that aren’t, you may encounter large errors when trying to use your computer from a minor annoyance to something that could break it. It's the same with your brain.

Even if one pathway isn’t working you could have disorders such as Asperger syndrome or AD-HD for instance. People born with these conditions have pathways that are not working or they may fatigue with age leading to various disorders such as Alzheimer's syndrome where the user loses the ability to remember things. These are things that scientists have been looking to solve for some time now.

Most pharmaceuticals have different methods of treating these problems within the brain. One of the most prescribed forms being Cholinesterase Inhibitors which are supposed to remove the symptoms of Alzheimer's by strengthening messenger protein. However, even this isn’t a permanent fix as within 6 to 12 months it goes back to being bad. They only mask the symptoms, not cure it. However with new technologies being developed and granting opportunities to those affected by illnesses. One looks promising and seems to be able to shed light on the situation… literally.


Optogenetics uses lights to change turn different parts of the brain on or off. This is groundbreaking and allows these areas that are not working to be fixed with ease. Optogenetics is also accurate and allows the targeting of specific cells as opposed to the current methods which involve electric shocks that try to achieve the same goals.

The key to how Optogenetics works is called Opsin which is a small group of proteins that are sensitive to UV light. By injecting Opsin into neurons of our choice we are able to change their states between Open or Closed using light stimulations. This can be used to fix different brain disorders for good without masking the symptoms

Different parts of the brain are stimulated to solve different disorders. For example, in Alzheimer's, researchers have been targeting the CA1 regions of the hippocampus as this is where memories are stored and formulated as well as consolidated and stimulating it can slow the neurodegeneration associated with AD.

As far as light goes, within mice testing, they used a blue LED light to activate neurons within the hippocampus. The light when used on mice was able to go through 0.6millimeters and hit the opsin leading to changes in the mice’s behavior from increased reflexes to be more alert. When testing on monkeys from outside the dura they succeeded in stimulating the brain once more. The dura is is the membrane used to hold the spinal fluid in your skull, it's under the skull but before the brain. However, on humans, we would need a much longer wavelength due to the research showing that it's more effective in penetrating through human skin. With a longer wavelength needed and red light being untested. It seems like a very strong choice.

Thinking about the future

Every day humanity is looking to make the world a better place. With Optogenetics becoming more and more prominent. New ideas are circulating to make the field become a staple and to make the lives of people affected by brain disorders just like everyone else's. Soon these problems will be far in the past as long as Optogenetics is in the spotlight of today.

Key Takeaways:

  • Optogenetics is a new field of study that uses light to activate areas in the brain
  • Opsin is able to target key cells unlike methods using high amounts of voltage
  • Depending on what you want to fix, Opsin needs to be injected into different key areas of the brain
  • Testing has been done on mice and monkeys but still hasn’t gone through human trials

Thank you for reading!

Hi, I’m Rohan, an Innovator at The Knowledge Society. If you enjoyed this and want to learn more feel free to reach out to me or connect with me on Linkedin. I also have my company which is currently using Optogenetics to solve Alzheimer's down below if you want to check it out. Keep being curious.

My company, Lifelight: LifeLight



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