Scientists have found a way to control the human brain using a protein lurking in a creature known as ‘vampire fish’ that has lived on Earth for hundreds of millions of years.
American scientists used a protein from a lamprey, an ancient line of jawless fish similar to eel, to turn off brain circuits linked to addiction, anxiety, and depression.
Researchers took a gene from the protein called parapinopsin and found that they could control it in the way neurons communicate with each other.
Parapinopsin also responds to light, allowing scientists to use rays of light to turn off or reactivate the circuit to change reward behavior – which could lead to brain implants to deliver treatment.
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US scientists used a protein from a lamprey, an ancient line of jawless fish similar to eel, to turn off brain circuits linked to addiction, anxiety, and depression
Those who suffer from addiction, anxiety, and depression have often wished they could just turn their brains off and the latest discovery could soon make that happen.
In a paper published May 11 in Neuron, researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Washington University in St. Louis, along with several other universities, successfully used a protein from a lamprey to turn off brain circuitry.
Lampreys are a species that has roamed the Earth for about 360 million years, celebrating parasitically by attaching their mouths to the side of a fish or whale before sucking blood.
And because of their large mouths and feeding behavior, the marine animal has earned the name ‘vampire fish’.
Researchers took a gene from the protein called parapinopsin and found that they could control it in the way neurons communicate with each other. Lampreys are a species that has roamed Earth for about 360 million years
Michael Bruchas, professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington, said: “We have found a particular protein that comes from the lamprey that has been around for hundreds of millions of years.
“We took the gene out of that protein and found that we control the way neurons talk to each other, which is how chemicals are transferred in the brain.”
For decades, neuroscientists have been using different types of light-sensitive proteins expressed in plants and bacteria to experiment with brain circuitry, Bruchas said.
But this is the first time that a protein has been extracted from the lamprey to control brain circuits.
Parapinopsin is a type of protein called a ‘g protein coupled receptor’ or GPCR.
These GPCRs originated early in evolution and can be found in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans.
And there are at least 850 such proteins in mammals.
These proteins control everything from heart rate to fat storage, to reward and stress responses.
GPCRs also respond well to chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, which make people feel good and are important in learning and rewarding.
“Some of these GPCR pathways have been highly preserved over millions of years of evolution, and that’s why we were able to hack them with parapinopsin,” said Bryan Copits, lead author and co-corresponding author, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Pain Center in Washington. University School of Medicine, where Bruchas used to be located.
Finding a way to control neurons is the holy grail of the scientific community, as this would open a world of treatments for people suffering from mood disorders, along with other complications such as paralysis and blindness.
And determining whether the lamprey protein responds to light may be just what they were looking for.
The team found that zapping the protein with a blue light activates it and an amber light turns it off.
This would eliminate the need for chemical treatments that can have side effects and instead zap the proteins with a harmless beam of light.
Parapinopsin also responds to light, allowing scientists to use rays of light to turn off or reactivate the circuit to change reward behavior – which could lead to brain implants to deliver treatment
For example, if part of the brain had Parkinson’s seizures, it might be possible to isolate the effect with an electrode, dampen it with modifications to neurotransmission, or inhibit specific pathways to improve mood, the team shared. a statement.
Bruchas said the original discovery of parapinopsin was made by researchers in Japan in the Terakita lab, who discovered several light-sensitive GPCRs between species.
“This is a perfect reason why fundamental science is so incredibly important,” Bruchas said. ‘Because of someone’s hard work on basic biological discoveries, we have a new tool for medical research. ‘
Bruchas said his team plans to use the discovery to research expanding their knowledge of the inner workings of the brain and identify treatments for stress, depression, addiction, and pain.