Using Drosophila to demonstrate optogenetic tools

'Optogenetics' refers to techniques used to control cells in living organisms with light. The main optogenetic tools currently in use utilize light-activated channelrhopodsins from green algae to activate neurons. By expressing a channelrhodopsin in subsets of neurons, one can study the specific behaviors controlled by those neurons by shining light of a specific wavelength (the wavelength depends on the channelrhodopsin used) to open the channelrhodopsin and activate the nerves (see below).

schematic of light activating channelrhopsin, causing it to open and ions to flow into the cell.

Ilya Vilinsky (University of Cincinnati), Karen Hibbard (Janelia Research Campus), Bruce Johnson and David Deitcher (Cornell University) have developed a set of stocks and student lab exercises that demonstrate optogenetic techniques in Drosophila melanogaster. These stocks utilize the GAL4/UAS system to express a channelrhodopsin in subsets of neurons in either larval or adult flies (see schematic below for an example of how the GAL4/UAS system works). By shining either an intense red (625 nm) or blue (460 nm) light onto adults (or larvae as appropriate), the channelrhodopsins open and the neurons expressing these proteins are depolarized and activated, resulting in a specific behavior.

Schematic of GAL4/UAS system used to express channelrhodopsin in subsets of cells.  GAL4 is expressed in subsets of neurons, it then binds to UAS to activate transcription of the channelrhodopsin.

Activation of channelrhodopsins in these stocks can be achieved using inexpensive handheld red light (for CsChrimson) or blue light (for H143R-ChR2) flashlights made by companies like JOYLIT or WAYLLSHINE (look for 465 nm or 620 nm tactical CREE XP-E LED flashlights - you'll want a light with at least 200 lumens).

For more information on these lines and their uses, please see Vilinsky et al., 2018. For a lab utilizing two of the lines, please download the CrawFly Workshop 'Optogenetically Induced Adult Behaviors' lab instruction sheet.

If you have questions, please contact Dr. Karen Hibbard.

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