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NIH Wants Optogenetics Studies of Neural Aging, Alzheimer's

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute on Aging plans to award up to $1 million next year to fund researchers who will explore the use of new optogenetic tools to study neural systems and their function, as well as to investigate Alzheimer's disease.

Optogenetics techniques, which use light to affect and control the activities of individual cells in living organisms, could help researchers studying aging-related disorders overcome a major impediment to their studies, the institute said in a request for applications Friday.

Recent research has uncovered aberrant neural activities that occur in the course of aging, but so far it has been difficult to study whether these activities cause disorders as there is a lack of tools for manipulating neural activity in living organisms in a controlled manner.

Optogenetic tools may offer a way for investigators to manipulate neural activities such that they may be studied and their effects may be observed.

NIA wants researchers to use this funding to develop optogenetic technologies for use in research into the normal and pathological aging of several neural systems, including sensory, motor, cognitive, emotional, autonomic, sleep, and neurovascular systems, and in Alzheimer's disease.

For studying neural systems, optogenetics technologies rely on using opsins – single-component microbial light activated regulators – that can activate neuronal firing by using light, or can inhibit neural activities in response to light, enabling researchers to elevate or suppress neural activity in living animal models, including rodents and non-human primates.

These technologies have yet to be used widely in aging and Alzheimer's research, according to NIA.

These three or four NIA awards will fund studies that combine optogenetics with other cellular, molecular, genetic, neuroimaging, and behavioral research methods.

Researchers may use the funding for wide a range of efforts to identify neural circuits, systems, and functioning and how they affect or are affected by aging and Alzheimer's disease.