Optogenetic techniques enable one to target specific neurons with light-sensitive proteins, e.g., ion channels, ion pumps, or enzymes, and to manipulate their physiological state through illumination. Such artificial interference with selected elements of complex neuronal circuits can help to determine causal relationships between neuronal activity and the effect on the functioning of neuronal circuits controlling animal behavior. The advantages of optogenetics can best be exploited in genetically tractable animals whose nervous systems are, on the one hand, small enough in terms of cell numbers and to a certain degree stereotypically organized, such that distinct and identifiable neurons can be targeted reproducibly. On the other hand, the neuronal circuitry and the behavioral repertoire should be complex enough to enable one to address interesting questions. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is a favorable model organism in this regard. However, the application of optogenetic tools to depolarize or hyperpolarize neurons through light-induced ionic currents has been difficult in adult flies. Only recently, several variants of Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) have been introduced that provide sufficient light sensitivity, expression, and stability to depolarize central brain neurons efficiently in adult Drosophila. Here, we focus on the version currently providing highest photostimulation efficiency, ChR2-XXL. We exemplify the use of this optogenetic tool by applying it to a widely used aversive olfactory learning paradigm. Optogenetic activation of a population of dopamine-releasing neurons mimics the reinforcing properties of a punitive electric shock typically used as an unconditioned stimulus. In temporal coincidence with an odor stimulus this artificially induced neuronal activity causes learning of the odor signal, thereby creating a light-induced memory.
Optogenetics Neuronal circuits Drosophila melanogasterLearning and memory ChR2-XXL Dopamine Mushroom body
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This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (FI 821/3-1 and SFB 889/B4 to A.F., and KI 1460/1-1, SFB 1047/A5, and FOR 2140/TP3 to R.J.K.).
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