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Selective Manipulation of Neural Circuits.
Unraveling the complex network of neural circuits that form the nervous system demands tools that can manipulate specific circuits. The recent evolution of genetic tools to target neural circuits allows an unprecedented precision in elucidating their function. Here we describe two general approaches for achieving circuit specificity. The first uses the genetic identity of a cell, such as a transcription factor unique to a circuit, to drive expression of a molecule that can manipulate cell function. The second uses the spatial connectivity of a circuit to achieve specificity: one genetic element is introduced at the origin of a circuit and the other at its termination. When the two genetic elements combine within a neuron, they can alter its function. These two general approaches can be combined to allow manipulation of neurons with a specific genetic identity by introducing a regulatory gene into the origin or termination of the circuit. We consider the advantages and disadvantages of both these general approaches with regard to specificity and efficacy of the manipulations. We also review the genetic techniques that allow gain- and loss-of-function within specific neural circuits. These approaches introduce light-sensitive channels (optogenetic) or drug sensitive channels (chemogenetic) into neurons that form specific circuits. We compare these tools with others developed for circuit-specific manipulation and describe the advantages of each. Finally, we discuss how these tools might be applied for identification of the neural circuits that mediate behavior and for repair of neural connections.