Optical technologies allowing modulation of neuronal activity at high spatio-temporal resolution are becoming paramount in neuroscience. In this respect, azobenzene-based photoswitches are promising nanoscale tools for neuronal photostimulation. Here we engineered a light-sensitive azobenzene compound (Ziapin2) that stably partitions into the plasma membrane and causes its thinning through trans-dimerization in the dark, resulting in an increased membrane capacitance at steady state. We demonstrated that in neurons loaded with the compound, millisecond pulses of visible light induce a transient hyperpolarization followed by a delayed depolarization that triggers action potential firing. These effects are persistent and can be evoked in vivo up to 7 days, proving the potential of Ziapin2 for the modulation of membrane capacitance in the millisecond timescale, without directly affecting ion channels or local temperature.
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