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Ex Vivo Optogenetic Dissection of Fear Circuits in Brain Slices

Published: April 5th, 2016



1Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research and Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, University of Tuebingen, 2Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Optogenetic approaches are now widely used to study the function of neural populations and circuits by combining targeted expression of light-activated proteins and subsequent manipulation of neural activity by light. Channelrhodopsins (ChRs) are light-gated cation-channels and when fused to a fluorescent protein their expression allows for visualization and concurrent activation of specific cell types and their axonal projections in defined areas of the brain. Via stereotactic injection of viral vectors, ChR fusion proteins can be constitutively or conditionally expressed in specific cells of a defined brain region, and their axonal projections can subsequently be studied anatomically and functionally via ex vivo optogenetic activation in brain slices. This is of particular importance when aiming to understand synaptic properties of connections that could not be addressed with conventional electrical stimulation approaches, or in identifying novel afferent and efferent connectivity that was previously poorly understood. Here, a few examples illustrate how this technique can be applied to investigate these questions to elucidating fear-related circuits in the amygdala. The amygdala is a key region for acquisition and expression of fear, and storage of fear and emotional memories. Many lines of evidence suggest that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) participates in different aspects of fear acquisition and extinction, but its precise connectivity with the amygdala is just starting to be understood. First, it is shown how ex vivo optogenetic activation can be used to study aspects of synaptic communication between mPFC afferents and target cells in the basolateral amygdala (BLA). Furthermore, it is illustrated how this ex vivo optogenetic approach can be applied to assess novel connectivity patterns using a group of GABAergic neurons in the amygdala, the paracapsular intercalated cell cluster (mpITC), as an example.


Keywords Ex Vivo Optogenetics

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