Optogenetics: a decade of illuminating biology

In 2005, a study from the Deisseroth lab published in Nature Neuroscience demonstrated precise and reliable activation of neurons expressing the light-sensitive microbial protein channelrhodopsin-2 in response to pulses of light. This was not the first attempt at controlling neuronal activity with light, but the properties of channelrhodopsin-2 set the stage for its wide adoption. Many neuroscientists have now enthusiastically embraced optogenetics, with long-held views definitively tested and new insights into the brain in both health and disease gained. The optogenetics tool box has rapidly expanded over the past decade, paving the way for experiments that would have once seemed impossible. The reach of optogenetics now extends beyond neuroscience, as the dream of fine-tuned control of cellular activity is not limited to those working on the nervous system.

In this Collection, we present a snapshot of how the field of optogenetics has progressed. While the research and commentaries highlighted in these pages provides only a snippet of this large and robust field, we hope that these articles provide a sense for the technological improvements and biological insights driving the community forward.


  • ChR2: Anniversary - The September 2015 issue of Nature Neuroscience celebrates the 10th anniversary of channelrhodopsin-2 in neurons and features articles from the first and senior authors of the original paper along with a Q&A where a number of scientists reflect on the impact of optogenetics.

  • News & Comments - Learn about the impact and reach of optogenetics in these news and commentary articles from Nature-branded journals.

  • Research - Enjoy an editorially curated selection of articles published in the Nature-branded journals over the past decade, highlighting both tools that were added to the optogenetic toolkit and key biological insights revealed with these approaches.

  • Protocols - Browse through an editorially curated selection of experimental protocols related to optogenetics work published in the Nature-branded journals and elsewhere over the past decade.

  • Video - Take a guided tour of optogenetics with Nature Video.


Publication timeline for microbial opsins and optogenetics over 45 years. Figure from Deisseroth, K. Optogenetics: 10 years of microbial opsins in neuroscience, September 2015 issue of Nature Neuroscience.

Publication timeline for microbial opsins and optogenetics over 45 years.