Viral vectors were originally developed to deliver genes into host cells for therapeutic potential. However, viral vector use in neuroscience research has increased because they enhance interpretation of the anatomy and physiology of brain circuits compared with conventional tract tracing or electrical stimulation techniques. Viral vectors enable neuronal or glial subpopulations to be labeled or stimulated, which can be spatially restricted to a single target nucleus or pathway. Here we review the use of viral vectors to examine the structure and function of motor and limbic basal ganglia (BG) networks in normal and pathological states. We outline the use of viral vectors, particularly lentivirus and adeno-associated virus, in circuit tracing, optogenetic stimulation, and designer drug stimulation experiments. Key studies that have used viral vectors to trace and image pathways and connectivity at gross or ultrastructural levels are reviewed. We explain how optogenetic stimulation and designer drugs used to modulate a distinct pathway and neuronal subpopulation have enhanced our mechanistic understanding of BG function in health and pathophysiology in disease. Finally, we outline how viral vector technology may be applied to neurological and psychiatric conditions to offer new treatments with enhanced outcomes for patients.
- adeno-associated virus
- basal ganglia neuronal phenotypes
- confocal and electron microscopy
- Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society
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