Elucidating the roles of neuronal cell types for physiology and behavior is essential for understanding brain functions. Perturbation of neuron electrical activity can be used to probe the causal relationship between neuronal cell types and behavior. New genetically encoded neuron perturbation tools have been developed for remotely controlling neuron function using small molecules that activate engineered receptors that can be targeted to cell types using genetic methods. Here we describe recent progress for approaches using genetically engineered receptors that selectively interact with small molecules. Called “chemogenetics,” receptors with diverse cellular functions have been developed that facilitate the selective pharmacological control over a diverse range of cell-signaling processes, including electrical activity, for molecularly defined cell types. These tools have revealed remarkably specific behavioral physiological influences for molecularly defined cell types that are often intermingled with populations having different or even opposite functions.


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