Dissecting the functional roles of neuronal circuits and their interaction is a crucial step in basic neuroscience and in all the biomedical field. Optogenetics is well-suited to this purpose since it allows us to study the functionality of neuronal networks on multiple scales in living organisms. This tool was recently used in a plethora of studies to investigate physiological neuronal circuit function in addition to dysfunctional or pathological conditions. Moreover, optogenetics is emerging as a crucial technique to develop new rehabilitative and therapeutic strategies for many neurodegenerative diseases in pre-clinical models. In this review, we discuss recent applications of optogenetics, starting from fundamental research to pre-clinical applications. Firstly, we described the fundamental components of optogenetics, from light-activated proteins to light delivery systems. Secondly, we showed its applications to study neuronal circuits in physiological or pathological conditions at the cortical and subcortical level, in vivo. Furthermore, the interesting findings achieved using optogenetics as a therapeutic and rehabilitative tool highlighted the potential of this technique for understanding and treating neurological diseases in pre-clinical models. Finally, we showed encouraging results recently obtained by applying optogenetics in human neuronal cells in-vitro.
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