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Genetically Encoding Unnatural Amino Acids in Neurons In Vitro and in the Embryonic Mouse Brain for Optical Control of Neuronal Proteins


Deciphering neuronal networks governing specific brain functions is a longstanding mission in neuroscience, yet global manipulation of protein functions pharmacologically or genetically lacks sufficient specificity to reveal a neuronal protein's function in a particular neuron or a circuitry. Photostimulation presents a great venue for researchers to control neuronal proteins with high temporal and spatial resolution. Recently, an approach to optically control the function of a neuronal protein directly in neurons has been demonstrated using genetically encoded light-sensitive Unnatural amino acids (Uaas). Here, we describe procedures for genetically incorporating Uaas into target neuronal proteins in neurons in vitro and in embryonic mouse brain. As an example, a photocaged Uaa was incorporated into an inwardly rectifying potassium channel Kir2.1 to render Kir2.1 photo-activatable. This method has the potential to be generally applied to many neuronal proteins to achieve optical regulation of different processes in brains. Uaas with other properties can be similarly incorporated into neuronal proteins in neurons for various applications.

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