Optical monitoring of brain function in vivo: from neurons to networks

Pflugers Arch. 2006 Dec;453(3):385-96. doi: 10.1007/s00424-006-0150-x. Epub 2006 Oct 18.


The precise understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of brain function requires the direct assessment of the activity of defined cells in vivo. A promising approach for such analyses is two-photon microscopy in combination with appropriate cell labeling techniques. Here, we review the multi-cell bolus loading (MCBL) method that involves the use of membrane-permeant fluorescent indicator dyes. We show that this approach is useful for the functional analysis of clusters of neurons and glial cells in vivo. Work from our and other laboratories shows that the techniques that were previously feasible only in brain slices, like targeted patch clamp recordings from identified cells or pharmacological manipulations in confined brain regions, can now be used also in vivo. We also show that MCBL and two-photon imaging can be easily combined with other labeling techniques, particularly with those involving the use of genetically encoded, green-fluorescent-protein-based indicators. Finally, we examine recent applications of MCBL/two-photon imaging for the analysis of various brain regions, including the somatosensory and the visual cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Cats
  • Fluorescent Dyes / administration & dosage
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Zebrafish


  • Fluorescent Dyes