Serotonin (5-HT) is implicated in a wide spectrum of brain functions and disorders. However, its functions remain controversial and enigmatic. We suggest that past work on the 5-HT system have been significantly hampered by technical limitations in the selectivity and temporal resolution of the conventional pharmacological and electrophysiological methods that have been applied. We therefore propose to apply novel optogenetic methods that will allow us to overcome these limitations and thereby gain new insight into the biological functions of this important molecule. In preliminary studies, we have demonstrated that we can deliver exogenous proteins specifically to 5-HT neurons using viral vectors. Our objectives are to (1) record, (2) stimulate and (3) silence the activity of 5-HT neurons with high molecular selectivity and temporal precision by using genetically-encoded sensors, activators and inhibitors of neural function. These tools will allow us to monitor and control the 5-HT system in real-time in freely-behaving animals and thereby to establish causal links between information processing in 5-HT neurons and specific behaviors. In combination with quantitative behavioral assays, we will use this approach to define the role of 5-HT in sensory, motor and cognitive functions. The significance of the work is three-fold. First, we will establish a new arsenal of tools for probing the physiological and behavioral functions of 5-HT neurons. Second, we will make definitive tests of major hypotheses of 5-HT function. Third, we will have possible therapeutic applications. In this way, the proposed work has the potential for a major impact in research on the role of 5-HT in brain function and dysfunction.
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