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With the development of optogenetics it became possible to excite or inhibit specific neuronal types with millisecond precision. This method uses genetic targeting of light-sensitive proteins, opsins (of algal, archaeal, and bacterial origin), to establish neuronal sensitivity to a variety of visible light wavelengths. Opsins can be roughly categorized as excitatory (used for evoking action potentials; e.g., cation channel channelrhodopsin 2, ChR2) or inhibitory (used for inhibiting action potential firing; e.g., modified chloride pump halorhodopsin, eNpHR3.0, and modified proton pump archaerhodopsin, eArch3.0).

Optogenetics is a powerful tool for scientific investigation of the behavioral correlates of neural dynamics, but its genetic and mechanical invasiveness impedes its clinical translation. As mammalian tissues are highly scattering and absorptive in the visible light range, implantation of optical waveguides or light-emitting devices is necessary for implementation of optogenetics. Thus, optical stimulation technologies face materials design and biocompatibility challenges similar to those of tissue-penetrating neural recording and stimulation electrodes.

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