Understanding the structure and function of cortical circuits requires the identification of and control over specific cell types in the cortex. To address these obstacles, recent optogenetic approaches have been developed. The capacity to activate, silence, or monitor specific cell types by combining genetics, virology, and optics will decipher the role of specific groups of neurons within circuits with a spatiotemporal resolution that overcomes standard approaches. In this review, the various strategies for selective genetic targeting of a defined neuronal population are discussed as well as the pros and cons of the use of transgenic animals and recombinant viral vectors for the expression of transgenes in a specific set of neurons.
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