Nature Nanotechnology, Vol.15, No.4, 296-+, 2020
Neuronal firing modulation by a membrane-targeted photoswitch
Light-sensitive azobenzene compounds can be engineered to stably partition into the plasma membrane, thus causing its thinning in the dark and relaxation upon light stimulation. In neurons, the resulting light-dependent change in membrane capacitance induces a transient hyperpolarization followed by rebound depolarization and action potential firing. Optical technologies allowing modulation of neuronal activity at high spatio-temporal resolution are becoming paramount in neuroscience. In this respect, azobenzene-based photoswitches are promising nanoscale tools for neuronal photostimulation. Here we engineered a light-sensitive azobenzene compound (Ziapin2) that stably partitions into the plasma membrane and causes its thinning through trans-dimerization in the dark, resulting in an increased membrane capacitance at steady state. We demonstrated that in neurons loaded with the compound, millisecond pulses of visible light induce a transient hyperpolarization followed by a delayed depolarization that triggers action potential firing. These effects are persistent and can be evoked in vivo up to 7 days, proving the potential of Ziapin2 for the modulation of membrane capacitance in the millisecond timescale, without directly affecting ion channels or local temperature.