A neuron-optimised CRISPR-Cas9 activation system has been used by scientists to regulate genes in a rat brain for the first time. This technique could lead to researchers being able to probe genetic influences on brain health and disease in model organisms which more closely resemble humans.

Currently, studying genes in the brain is costly and slow, and relies largely on transgenic animals like flies and mice. Adapting CRISPR developments for use in the brain has proved difficult until now.

The researchers showed that the tool can adequately increase expression of targeted genes involved in learning and memory, plasticity and neuronal development in both diverse cultured cells and in a number of regions of the live rat brain.