Prof. Dr. Ilka Diester

Department of Optophysiology
Albert Ludwigs University Freiburg

Ilka Diester studied Biology at the Humboldt University Berlin and did her PhD on neural correlates of numerical competence in non-human primates at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Tübingen. She joined Karl Deisseroth’s and Krishna Shenoy’s laboratories at Stanford University where she established optogenetics in non-human primates as a postdoctoral fellow. Since 2011 Ilka Diester is leading a research group at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience in Cooperation with Max Planck Society. Her group focusses on motor circuits and optogenetics.

Manipulating neocortex with optogenetic techniques

The relatively young technique “optogenetics” has already caused much excitement in the neuroscience community. For the first time, it allows bidirectional modulation (i.e., stimulation and inhibition) of neural substrates with millisecond precision and cell type specificity. The specificity is achieved either by taking into account of the neurons’ expression machinery or their projection patterns to connected brain areas. The latter enables the stimulation and dissection of brain networks. Since the optical modulation relies on light instead of electrical current, it further allows simultaneous artifact-free electrophysiological recordings thus enabling “write-in and read-out” approaches. Thus, optogenetic stimulation enables new types of experiments which have already resulted in a plethora published papers from laboratories around the world. The basic principles of the technique as well as a few examples will be discussed. Particularly, we will focus on motor cortex in rodents and non-human primates and the effects of optical stimulation on neural activity as well as behavior.