Researchers of the Center of Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology (NSYN-IIT) in Genoa in collaboration with the Center for Nano Science and Technology (CNST-IIT) in Milan and the Politecnico di Milano, engineered a molecule, named Ziapin2, able to activate neurons in a light-dependent manner through a non-invasive application. The peculiarity of this molecule is that it readily integrates into the neuronal cell membrane; by modulating the passive membrane properties, it silences neuronal activation in the dark, but triggers it upon light-stimulation, like a photoswitch.
These characteristics open up to the possibility to use it to counteract excessive excitability in neuronal circuits seen in epileptic patients or to gain back light sensitivity in retinas that lost photoreceptors. To date, the effects of Ziapin2 have been described in neuronal cultures and in vivo in the somatosensory cortex, and ongoing experiments are exploring the possible application on retinal explants. The next steps envision further engineering of Ziapin2 in order to target specific neuronal populations to strengthen its possible application in the field of vision restoration.
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