This week our lab did our first successful optogenetics experiment. Postdoctoral fellow Daniel Rossier and Sapienza University Masters student Violetta La Franca (above) have been trying to understand why animals like to do things even if they don’t get rewarded for doing it. It’s the old question of why a cat chases its tail – it just doesn’t make sense according to most neuroscience theories that talk about reward and punishment as the main drivers of behavior.
Of course, we all know the real answer – they do it because it’s fun! But what’s the neural circuit basis of that? Well, Daniel and Violetta have a theory that cells in the lateral hypothalamus are involved and now they’ve shown that stimulating those cells using optogenetics (controlled light stimulation of the algal protein channel rhodopsin expressed deep in the mouse brain) makes them like to do things just for the fun of it. I’m curious to see where their research leads them.