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Biomedical Optics & Medical Imaging

Ed Boyden: Neurophotonic strategies for observing and controlling neural circuits

A plenary presentation from SPIE Photonics West 2018.

9 March 2018, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201803.09

To enable the understanding and repair of complex biological systems such as the brain, Ed Boyden and his team at MIT, are creating novel optical tools that enable molecular-resolution maps of large scale systems, as well as technologies for observing and controlling high-speed physiological dynamics in such systems.

Ed Boyden, MITFirst, they developed a method for imaging large 3-D specimens with nanoscale precision, by embedding them in a swellable polymer, homogenizing their mechanical properties, and exposing them to water - which causes them to expand isotropically manyfold. This method, called expansion microscopy (ExM), enables scalable, inexpensive diffraction-limited microscopes to do large-volume nanoscopy, in a multiplexed fashion.

Second, they developed a set of genetically-encoded reagents, known as optogenetic tools, that when expressed in specific neurons, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light.

Finally, they are developing novel reagents and systems to enable the imaging of fast physiological processes in 3-D with millisecond precision. In this way, Boyden's team aims to enable the systematic mapping, control, and dynamical observation of complex biological systems like the brain.

Ed Boyden is associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, which develops tools for analyzing and engineering the circuits of the brain. These technologies, created often in interdisciplinary collaborations, include optogenetic tools, which enable the activation and silencing of neural-circuit elements with light, 3-D microfabricated neural interfaces that enable control and readout of neural activity, and robotic methods for automatically recording intracellular neural activity and performing single-cell analyses in the living brain.


Boyden received his PhD in neurosciences from Stanford University as a Hertz Fellow, where he discovered that the molecular mechanisms used to store a memory are determined by the content to be learned. Before that, he received degrees in electrical engineering, computer science, and physics from MIT.

Related SPIE content:

Ed Boyden: Expansion microscopy -- A new tool in brain research
His group at MIT develops tools that enable the mapping of the molecules and wiring of the brain, the recording and control of its neural dynamics, and the repair of its dysfunction. Boyden descirbes an inventive new approach to magnification.

Video: Ed Boyden on Optogenetics -- selective brain stimulation with light
Boyden's award-winning research has led to tools that can activate or silence neurons with light, enabling the causal assessment of how specific neurons contribute to normal and pathological brain functions.