Many circuits in the mammalian brain are organized in a topographic or columnar manner. These circuits could be activated-in ways that reveal circuit function or restore function after disease-by an artificial stimulation system that is capable of independently driving local groups of neurons. Here we present a simple custom microscope called ProjectorScope 1 that incorporates off-the-shelf parts and a liquid crystal display (LCD) projector to stimulate surface brain regions that express channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2).
In principle, local optogenetic stimulation of the brain surface with optical projection systems might not produce local activation of a highly interconnected network like the cortex, because of potential stimulation of axons of passage or extended dendritic trees. However, here we demonstrate that the combination of virally mediated ChR2 expression levels and the light intensity of ProjectorScope 1 is capable of producing local spatial activation with a resolution of ∼200-300 μm. We use the system to examine the role of cortical activity in the experience-dependent emergence of motion selectivity in immature ferret visual cortex. We find that optogenetic cortical activation alone-without visual stimulation-is sufficient to produce increases in motion selectivity, suggesting the presence of a sharpening mechanism that does not require precise spatiotemporal activation of the visual system. These results demonstrate that optogenetic stimulation can sculpt the developing brain.