Questions for ‘New light on brain science’

The brain contains many different types of nerve cells. These brain cells are separated by small gaps, called synapses.

Aurélie Pala and Carl Petersen, EPFL, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

To accompany feature “New light on brain science”


Before Reading

1.    A protein called opsin helps make many organisms sensitive to light. Provide some reasons why that could be helpful.

2.    Scientists sometimes study brain disorders to learn more about how the brain is supposed to work normally. Why might they do this?

During Reading

1.    What are neurons?

2.    Define optogenetics.

3.    Why is Keith Bonin so excited about optogenetics?

4.    What does optogenetics allow researchers to control?

5.    Explain what opsins are and why they are important to optogenetics.

6.    List the steps in how opsin can act as a gatekeeper in either turning a neuron on or off.

7.    Describe how researchers get light into the brains of laboratory animals.

8.    What is synaptic transmission? According to the article, why is it so important?

9.    Provide some examples of when dopamine is released.

10.  How might red light offer a major advantage in optogenetics?

After Reading:

1.    Explain why researchers would want to learn more about how neurons release dopamine as a result of abusing alcohol or other drugs.

2.    Would it be ethical to perform optogenetics experiments on people? Why or why not?


1.    If a pinhead has a radius of 0.75 millimeter, what is its area?