Acta Phys. -Chim. Sin. ›› 2020, Vol. 36 ›› Issue (12): 2003042.doi: 10.3866/PKU.WHXB202003042

Special Issue: Neural Interfaces

• REVIEW • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Upconversion Nanoparticles-Mediated Optogenetics for Minimally Invasive Neural Interface

Liang Zou1,2, Huihui Tian1,*()   

  1. 1 CAS Center for Excellence in Nanoscience, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, Beijing 100190, P. R. China
    2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, P. R. China
  • Received:2020-03-19 Accepted:2020-04-22 Published:2020-04-27
  • Contact: Huihui Tian
  • Supported by:
    the National Natural Science Foundation of China(21790393);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(61971150);the Special Fund for Strategic Pilot Technology of Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDB32030100)


Optogenetics is a neuromodulation technology that combines light control technology with genetic technology, thus allowing the selective activation and inhibition of the electrical activity in specific types of neurons with millisecond time resolution. Over the past several years, optogenetics has become a powerful tool for understanding the organization and functions of neural circuits, and it holds great promise to treat neurological disorders. To date, the excitation wavelengths of commonly employed opsins in optogenetics are located in the visible spectrum. This poses a serious limitation for neural activity regulation because the intense absorption and scattering of visible light by tissues lead to the loss of excitation light energy and also cause tissue heating. To regulate the activity of neurons in deep brain regions, it is necessary to implant optical fibers or optoelectronic devices into target brain areas, which however can induce severe tissue damage. Non- or minimally-invasive remote control technologies that can manipulate neural activity have been highly desirable in neuroscience research. Upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) can emit light with a short wavelength and high frequency upon excitation by light with a long wavelength and low frequency. Therefore, UCNPs can convert low-frequency near-infrared (NIR) light into high-frequency visible light for the activation of light-sensitive proteins, thus indirectly realizing the NIR optogenetic system. Because NIR light has a large tissue penetration depth, UCNP-mediated optogenetics has attracted significant interest for deep-tissue neuromodulation. However, in UCNP-mediated in vivo optogenetic experiments, as the up-conversion efficiency of UCNPs is low, it is generally necessary to apply high-power NIR light to obtain up-converted fluorescence with energy high enough to activate a photosensitive protein. High-power NIR light can cause thermal damage to tissues, which seriously restricts the applications of UCNPs in optogenetic technology. Therefore, the exploration of strategies to increase the up-conversion efficiency, fluorescence intensity, and biocompatibility of UCNPs is of great significance to their wide applications in optogenetic systems. This review summarizes recent developments and challenges in UCNP-mediated optogenetics for deep-brain neuromodulation. We firstly discuss the correspondence between the parameters of UCNPs and employed opsins in optogenetic experiments, which mainly include excitation wavelengths, emission wavelengths, and luminescent lifetimes. Thereafter, we introduce the methods to enhance the conversion efficiency of UCNPs, including optimizing the structure of UCNPs and modifying the organic dyes in UCNPs. In addition, we also discuss the future opportunities in combining UCNP-mediated optogenetics with flexible microelectrode technology for the long-term detection and regulation of neural activity in the case of minimal injury.

Key words: Upconversion nanoparticle, Conversion efficiency, Optogenetics, Neural regulation, Genetic technology