MAR 20, 2014 07:00 AM PDT

Tools for Mapping Brain Computations

Presented At Neuroscience
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  • Joint Professor at MIT, Synthetic Neurobiology Research Group, AT&T Career Development Associate Professor, MIT
      Professor Boyden leads the MIT Synthetic Neurobiology research group, which develops tools for mapping, controlling, observing, and building Brain Circuits. His research group has invented a suite of "optogenetic" tools that are now in use by thousands of research groups around the world for activating and silencing neurons with light. Boyden was named to the "Top 35 Innovators Under the Age of 35" by Technology Review in 2006, and to the "Top 20 Brains Under Age 40" by Discover magazine in 2008. He has received the Gabbay Award, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's Pioneer Award and Transformative Research Award, the Society for Neuroscience Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience, the NSF Career Award, the Paul Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, and the New York Stem Cell Robertson Investigator Award. In 2010, his work was recognized as the "Method of the Year" by the journal Nature Methods. Most recently he shared the 2013 Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Prize for outstanding contributions to European neuroscience-the largest neuroscience prize in the world


    The brain is a complex, densely wired circuit made out of heterogeneous cells, which vary in their shapes, molecular composition, and patterns of connectivity. In order to help discover how neural circuits implement brain functions, and how these computations go awry in brain disorders, we invent technologies to enable the scalable, systematic observation and control of biological structures and processes in the living brain. We have developed genetically-encoded reagents that, when expressed in specific neuron types in the nervous system, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light. I will give an overview of these "optogenetic"
    tools, adapted from natural photosensory and photosynthetic proteins, and discuss new tools we are developing, including molecules with novel color sensitivities (e.g., Chrimson, Jaws) and other unique capabilities (e.g., Chronos). We are also developing optogenetic tools that enable activation of endogenous protein and signaling pathways (e.g., lumitoxins). Often working in interdisciplinary collaborations, we have developed microfabricated hardware to enable complex and distributed neural circuits to be controlled and observed in a fully 3-D fashion, as well as robots that can automatically record neurons intracellularly and integratively in live brain, and strategies for building 3-D brain circuits in vitro. These tools are in widespread use to enable systematic analysis of neural circuit functions, are also opening up new frontiers on the understanding and treatment of brain disorders, and may serve as components of new platforms for diagnosing and treating brain disease

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