Silencing Neurons: Tools, Applications, and Experimental Constraints

Neuron. 2017 Aug 2;95(3):504-529. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.06.050.


Reversible silencing of neuronal activity is a powerful approach for isolating the roles of specific neuronal populations in circuit dynamics and behavior. In contrast with neuronal excitation, for which the majority of studies have used a limited number of optogenetic and chemogenetic tools, the number of genetically encoded tools used for inhibition of neuronal activity has vastly expanded. Silencing strategies vary widely in their mechanism of action and in their spatial and temporal scales. Although such manipulations are commonly applied, the design and interpretation of neuronal silencing experiments present unique challenges, both technically and conceptually. Here, we review the most commonly used tools for silencing neuronal activity and provide an in-depth analysis of their mechanism of action and utility for particular experimental applications. We further discuss the considerations that need to be given to experimental design, analysis, and interpretation of collected data. Finally, we discuss future directions for the development of new silencing approaches in neuroscience.

Keywords: archaerhodopsin; channelrhodopsin; chemogenetics; halorhodopsin; light-activated G-protein-coupled receptors; light-gated anion channelrhodopsins; neuronal silencing; optogenetics; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurosciences*
  • Optogenetics* / methods
  • Rhodopsin / genetics


  • Rhodopsin