Magnetic mind control works in live animals, makes mice happy

For a bunch of mind-controlled mice, walking into a magnetic field has never felt sooo good.

The imperceptible force that the genetically tweaked rodents wandered through fired up the reward-related circuits in their brains, likely conjuring the pure pleasure experienced when, for instance, they ate a yummy treat, researchers report Monday in Nature Neuroscience. Of course, this meant that the mice didn’t want to leave that happy magnetic field.

While getting mice to congregate in specific, magnetized areas may be useful for pest control, the experiment demonstrates a much more powerful point: that researchers can remotely control specific brain circuits in living animals with just magnets. The finding paves the way for magnetic mind control to help study the functions and malfunctions of the brain—plus the use of ‘magneto-genetic’ therapies to treat brain disorders, the authors report.

“This is, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of bona fide magnetic control of the nervous system,” the authors, led by biomedical scientist Ali Güler at the University of Virginia, concluded.

Of course, over the years, scientists have come up with other ways to control specific circuitry in brains, including using light signals (optogenetics) and drugs (chemogenetics). But those methods have some notable drawbacks. Light signals, for instance, have trouble beaming deep into brain tissues, dimming their usefulness in some brain regions. Drugs, on the other hand, can reach deep, but they can take their time seeping in and out. This makes controlling brain processes in real, physiological time tricky...


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