Spatiotemporal limits of optogenetic manipulations in cortical circuits
Neuronal inactivation is commonly used to assess the involvement of groups of neurons in specific brain functions. Optogenetic tools allow manipulations of genetically and spatially defined neuronal populations with excellent temporal resolution. However, the targeted neurons are coupled with other neural populations over multiple length scales. As a result, the effects of localized optogenetic manipulations are not limited to the targeted neurons, but produces spatially extended excitation and
... inhibition with rich dynamics. Here we benchmarked several optogenetic silencers in transgenic mice and with viral gene transduction, with the goal to inactivate excitatory neurons in small regions of neocortex. We analyzed the effects of the perturbations in vivo using electrophysiology. Channelrhodopsin activation of GABAergic neurons produced more effective photoinhibition of pyramidal neurons than direct photoinhibition using light-gated ion pumps. We made transgenic mice expressing the light-dependent chloride channel GtACR under the control of Cre-recombinase. Activation of GtACR produced the most potent photoinhibition. For all methods, localized photostimuli produced photoinhibition that extended substantially beyond the spread of light in tissue, although different methods had slightly different resolution limits (radius of inactivation, 0.5 mm to 1 mm). The spatial profile of photoinhibition was likely shaped by strong coupling between cortical neurons. Over some range of photostimulation, circuits produced the "paradoxical effect", where excitation of inhibitory neurons reduced activity in these neurons, together with pyramidal neurons, a signature of inhibition-stabilized neural networks. The offset of optogenetic inactivation was followed by rebound excitation in a light dose-dependent manner, which can be mitigated by slowly varying photostimuli, but at the expense of time resolution. Our data offer guidance for the design of in vivo optogenetics experiments and suggest how these experiments can reveal operating principles of neural circuits.