Heart and Circulatory Physiology

Cardiac optogenetics

Emilia Entcheva


Optogenetics is an emerging technology for optical interrogation and control of biological function with high specificity and high spatiotemporal resolution. Mammalian cells and tissues can be sensitized to respond to light by a relatively simple and well-tolerated genetic modification using microbial opsins (light-gated ion channels and pumps). These can achieve fast and specific excitatory or inhibitory response, offering distinct advantages over traditional pharmacological or electrical means of perturbation. Since the first demonstrations of utility in mammalian cells (neurons) in 2005, optogenetics has spurred immense research activity and has inspired numerous applications for dissection of neural circuitry and understanding of brain function in health and disease, applications ranging from in vitro to work in behaving animals. Only recently (since 2010), the field has extended to cardiac applications with less than a dozen publications to date. In consideration of the early phase of work on cardiac optogenetics and the impact of the technique in understanding another excitable tissue, the brain, this review is largely a perspective of possibilities in the heart. It covers the basic principles of operation of light-sensitive ion channels and pumps, the available tools and ongoing efforts in optimizing them, overview of neuroscience use, as well as cardiac-specific questions of implementation and ideas for best use of this emerging technology in the heart.

  • channelrhodopsin
  • light-sensitive ion channels
  • optical mapping
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