Faculty of Biology, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany; BrainLinks-BrainTools, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany; Bernstein Center Freiburg, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]
Optogenetics has revolutionized neurobiological research by allowing to disentangle intricate neuronal circuits at a spatio-temporal precision unmatched by other techniques. Here, we review current advances of optogenetic applications in mammals, especially focusing on freely moving animals. State-of-the-art strategies allow the targeted expression of opsins in neuronal subpopulations, defined either by genetic cell type or neuronal projection pattern. Optogenetic manipulations of these subpopulations become particularly powerful when combined with behavioral paradigms and neurophysiological readout techniques. Thereby, specific roles can be assigned to identified cells. All-optical approaches with the opportunity to write complex three dimensional patterns into neuronal networks have recently emerged. While clinical implications of the new tool set seem tempting, we emphasize here the role of optogenetics for basic research.