Stimulating neurons with light

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2002 Oct;12(5):587-92. doi: 10.1016/s0959-4388(02)00364-1.


Recent technological advances have enabled the use of different optical methods to activate neurons, including 'caged' glutamate, photoactivation of genetically engineered cascades, and direct two-photon excitation. The ability to use light as a stimulation tool provides, in principle, a non-invasive method for the temporally and spatially precise activation of any neuron or any part of a neuron. When combined with two-photon excitation, excellent spatial control can be achieved even in complex and highly scattering preparations, such as living nervous tissue. Different methods that have been developed in the last several decades have been used to probe neuronal sensitivity, mimic synaptic input, and elucidate patterns of neural connectivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Glutamates / pharmacology
  • Light
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*


  • Glutamates
  • alpha-(4,5-dimethoxy-2-nitrobenzyl) glutamate