Dr. Naveen Nagarajan and Dr. Mario R. Capecchi Lead Pioneering Study on Microglia Behavior Through Optogenetics

A pioneering study by Drs. Naveen Nagarajan and Mario R. Capecchi, have made significant strides in understanding the interplay between microglia and behavior via optogenetics. The study, housed within the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Utah, was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, shedding light on the role of microglia in behavior and opening the door to potential novel treatments for anxiety disorders.

Microglia, immune cells within the brain, regulate its immune response and are implicated in various neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. As such, they have attracted growing interest from researchers studying their role in behavior, especially concerning anxiety disorders.

“By deploying optogenetics to stimulate microglia within specific brain regions, we successfully provoked anxiety and compulsive overgrooming,” explained Dr. Nagarajan. The experiments involved optogenetic stimulation of microglia in the prefrontal cortex, striatum, amygdala, and hippocampus, all areas known to be involved in fear, anxiety, learning, and memory.

The results indicated that stimulating microglia in the amygdala led to anxiety-like behavior in mice, while stimulation in the hippocampus prompted both grooming and anxiety behavior. Our findings underline the significant role microglia play in behavior, specifically regarding anxiety. They also suggest potential therapeutic opportunities by targeting microglia for treating anxiety disorders.

Given that anxiety disorders afflict millions worldwide and that existing treatments such as psychotherapy, medication, and relaxation techniques aren’t universally effective and can carry undesirable side effects, these findings are timely. Optogenetic targeting of microglia could pave the way for new, more effective treatments of anxiety based disorders.

Their research underscores the promise of optogenetics in understanding microglia’s role in behavior, and it could ultimately lead to breakthroughs in treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. Renowned neuroscience professor at MIT, Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, lauded the study as a “landmark paper,” testifying to the transformative power of optogenetics in exploring microglia’s function in behavior.

In summary, this groundbreaking study, broadens our understanding of the role of microglia in behavior. While further research is warranted, these findings raise hope for those suffering from such conditions.

About Dr. Mario R Capecchi

Dr. Capecchi is known for his pioneering work on the development of gene targeting in mice. This technology allows creation of mutations in any desired gene, providing virtually complete freedom to manipulate the genome of living mice. His work has revolutionized the study of mammalian biology and is used to understand countless diseases by scientists worldwide. In 2007, he was recognized for this achievement with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

His current research is directed at determining the molecular mechanism responsible for chronic anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

About Dr. Naveen Nagarajan

Dr. Naveen Nagarajan is a respected researcher specializing in genetics and neuroscience. He is known for his pioneering work in exploring the role of microglia in behavior using optogenetic techniques. His ground-breaking research has been instrumental in providing new insights into potential treatments for anxiety disorders.

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Website: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-023-02019-w