Ed Boyden, PhD
Benesse Career Development Professor
Leader, Synthetic Neurobiology Group
Associate Professor, MIT Media Lab
Joint Professor, MIT Dept. of Biological Engineering, MIT Dept. of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Investigator, MIT McGovern Institute
Associate Member, MIT Picower Institute
Understanding how neural circuits implement brain functions, and how these computations go awry in brain disorders, is a top priority for neuroscience. Over the last several years we have developed a rapidly-expanding suite of genetically-encoded reagents that, when expressed in specific neuron types in the nervous system, enable their electrical activities to be powerfully and precisely activated and silenced in response to pulses of light. These tools are in widespread use for analyzing the causal role of defined cell types in normal and pathological brain functions. In this talk I will briefly give an overview of the field, and then I will discuss a number of new tools for neural activation and silencing that we are developing, including new molecules with augmented amplitudes, improved safety profiles, novel color and light-sensitivity capabilities, and unique new capabilities. We have begun to develop hardware to enable complex and distributed neural circuits to be precisely controlled, and for the network-wide impact of a neural control event to be measured using distributed electrodes, fMRI, and robotic intracellular neural recording. We explore how these tools can be used to enable systematic analysis of neural circuit functions in the fields of emotion, sensation, and movement, and in neurological and psychiatric disorders. Finally, we discuss our pre-clinical work on translation of such tools to support novel ultraprecise neuromodulation therapies for human patients.