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In 1791, Galvani established that electricity activated excitable cells. In the two centuries that followed, electrode stimulation of neuronal, skeletal and cardiac muscle became the adjunctive method of choice in experimental, electrophysiological, and clinical arenas. This approach underpins breakthrough technologies like implantable cardiac pacemakers that we currently take for granted. However, the contact dependence, and field stimulation that electrical depolarization delivers brings inherent limitations to the scope and experimental scale that can be achieved. Many of these were not exposed until reliable in vitro stem-cell derived experimental materials, with genotypes of interest, were produced in the numbers needed for multi-well screening platforms (for toxicity or efficacy studies) or the 2D or 3D tissue surrogates required to study propagation of depolarization within multicellular constructs that mimic clinically relevant arrhythmia in the heart or brain. Here the limitations of classical electrode stimulation are discussed. We describe how these are overcome by optogenetic tools which put electrically excitable cells under the control of light. We discuss how this enables studies in cardiac material from the single cell to the whole heart scale. We review the current commercial platforms that incorporate optogenetic stimulation strategies, and summarize the global literature to date on cardiac applications of optogenetics. We show that the advantages of optogenetic stimulation relevant to iPS-CM based screening include independence from contact, elimination of electrical stimulation artefacts in field potential measuring approaches such as the multi-electrode array, and the ability to print re-entrant patterns of depolarization at will on 2D cardiomyocyte monolayers.

Original publication




Journal article


Curr Pharm Biotechnol

Publication Date





752 - 764


Optogenetics, archearhodospin, cardiac, channelrhodopsin, drug screening, halorhodopsin, iPS-cardiomyocyte, re-entrant arrhythmia, Animals, Electric Stimulation, Electrophysiologic Techniques, Cardiac, Feasibility Studies, Heart, Humans, Myocytes, Cardiac, Neurons, Optogenetics