New tool activates deep brain neurons by combining ultrasound, genetics

Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy have had some treatment success with deep brain stimulation, but those require surgical device implantation. A multidisciplinary team at Washington University in St. Louis has developed a new brain stimulation technique using focused ultrasound that is able to turn specific types of neurons in the brain on and off and precisely control motor activity without surgical device implantation.

Hong Chen photo
Chen

The team, led by Hong Chen, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering and of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, is the first to provide direct evidence showing noninvasive, cell type-specific activation of neurons in the brains of mammals by combining ultrasound-induced heating effect and genetics, which they have named sonothermogenetics. It is also the first work to show that the ultrasound-genetics combination can robustly control behavior by stimulating a specific target deep in the brain.

Results of the three years of research, which was funded in part by the BRAIN Initiative of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), were published online in the journal Brain Stimulation May 11.

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