Development of transgenic animals for optogenetic manipulation of mammalian nervous system function: progress and prospects for behavioral neuroscience

Behav Brain Res. 2013 Oct 15;255:3-18. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.02.037. Epub 2013 Mar 6.


Here we review the rapidly growing toolbox of transgenic mice and rats that exhibit functional expression of engineered opsins for neuronal activation and silencing with light. Collectively, these transgenic animals are enabling neuroscientists to access and manipulate the many diverse cell types in the mammalian nervous system in order to probe synaptic and circuitry connectivity, function, and dysfunction. The availability of transgenic lines affords important advantages such as stable and heritable transgene expression patterns across experimental cohorts. As such, the use of transgenic lines precludes the need for other costly and labor-intensive procedures to achieve functional transgene expression in each individual experimental animal. This represents an important consideration when large cohorts of experimental animals are desirable as in many common behavioral assays. We describe the diverse strategies that have been implemented for developing transgenic mouse and rat lines and highlight recent advances that have led to dramatic improvements in achieving functional transgene expression of engineered opsins. Furthermore, we discuss considerations and caveats associated with implementing recently developed transgenic lines for optogenetics-based experimentation. Lastly, we propose strategies that can be implemented to develop and refine the next generation of genetically modified animals for behaviorally-focused optogenetics-based applications.

Keywords: Archaerhodopsin; Channelrhodopsin; Engineered opsin; Halorhodopsin; Optogenetics; Transgenic mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Halorhodopsins / genetics
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurosciences / methods*
  • Optogenetics / methods*
  • Rats, Transgenic
  • Rhodopsin / genetics


  • Halorhodopsins
  • Rhodopsin