Potential Utility of Optogenetics in the Study of Depression
Novel antidepressants are needed to enhance the health and quality of life of the hundreds of millions of depressed individuals worldwide who remain inadequately treated with today's approaches. In reality, no new class of antidepressant medication has been introduced in over 50 years. This insufficiency of current drug treatments is evident to those eager to pursue invasive experimental options like that of deep brain stimulation. Encouragingly, human brain imaging studies and animal work implicate strong relationships between depressive symptoms and patterns of brain activity, which are now open to more empirical assessments using optogenetics. Recent advances in optogenetics permit control over specific subtypes of neurons or their afferent or efferent projections and can greatly further our understanding of the neural mechanisms involved in depression and the mechanism of action of deep brain stimulation and perhaps chemical antidepressants. Here, we discuss how optogenetic tools are being used to answer a broad range of molecular, cellular, and circuit-level questions pertaining to depression that, up until now, have been resistant to other experimental approaches. The emergence of optogenetic technology, when combined with the best-validated animal models of depression, will dramatically increase knowledge about the basic neurobiology of depression, as well as facilitate the development of more effective antidepressant treatments.