Advancements in the Quest to Map, Monitor, and Manipulate Neural Circuitry

Front Neural Circuits. 2022 May 26;16:886302. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2022.886302. eCollection 2022.


Neural circuits and the cells that comprise them represent the functional units of the brain. Circuits relay and process sensory information, maintain homeostasis, drive behaviors, and facilitate cognitive functions such as learning and memory. Creating a functionally-precise map of the mammalian brain requires anatomically tracing neural circuits, monitoring their activity patterns, and manipulating their activity to infer function. Advancements in cell-type-specific genetic tools allow interrogation of neural circuits with increased precision. This review provides a broad overview of recombination-based and activity-driven genetic targeting approaches, contemporary viral tracing strategies, electrophysiological recording methods, newly developed calcium, and voltage indicators, and neurotransmitter/neuropeptide biosensors currently being used to investigate circuit architecture and function. Finally, it discusses methods for acute or chronic manipulation of neural activity, including genetically-targeted cellular ablation, optogenetics, chemogenetics, and over-expression of ion channels. With this ever-evolving genetic toolbox, scientists are continuing to probe neural circuits with increasing resolution, elucidating the structure and function of the incredibly complex mammalian brain.

Keywords: calcium/voltage indicator imaging; cell type-specific; chemogenetics; neural circuit tracing; neurotransmitter/biosensors; optogenetics; targeted ablation; viral genetic technology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Calcium
  • Learning
  • Mammals
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Optogenetics* / methods


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Calcium