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Optogenetics in the teaching laboratory: using channelrhodopsin-2 to study the neural basis of behavior and synaptic physiology in Drosophila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Author(s)

Stefan R Pulver, Nicholas J Hornstein, Bruce L Land, Bruce R Johnson

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Abstract

Here we incorporate recent advances in Drosophila neurogenetics and "optogenetics" into neuroscience laboratory exercises. We used the light-activated ion channel channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) and tissue-specific genetic expression techniques to study the neural basis of behavior in Drosophila larvae. We designed and implemented exercises using inexpensive, easy-to-use systems for delivering blue light pulses with fine temporal control. Students first examined the behavioral effects of activating glutamatergic neurons in Drosophila larvae and then recorded excitatory junctional potentials (EJPs) mediated by ChR2 activation at the larval neuromuscular junction (NMJ). Comparison of electrically and light-evoked EJPs demonstrates that the amplitudes and time courses of light-evoked EJPs are not significantly different from those generated by electrical nerve stimulation. These exercises introduce students to new genetic technology for remotely manipulating neural activity, and they simplify the process of recording EJPs at the Drosophila larval NMJ. Relatively little research work has been done using ChR2 in Drosophila, so students have opportunities to test novel hypotheses and make tangible contributions to the scientific record. Qualitative and quantitative assessment of student experiences suggest that these exercises help convey principles of synaptic transmission while also promoting integrative and inquiry-based studies of genetics, cellular physiology, and animal behavior.
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Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-91
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Physiology Education
Volume35
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

    Research areas

  • Animals, Behavior, Animal, Drosophila, Female, Male, Nervous System Physiological Phenomena, Rhodopsin, Teaching, Vision, Ocular

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