Ultrafast (femtosecond) lasers have become an important tool to investigate biological phenomena because of their ability to effect highly localized tissue removal in surgical applications. Here we describe programmable, microscale, femtosecond-laser ablation of melanocytes found on Xenopus laevis tadpoles, a technique that is applicable to biological studies in development, regeneration, and cancer research. We illustrate laser marking of individual melanocytes, and the drawing of patterns on melanocyte clusters to help track their migration and/or regeneration. We also demonstrate that this system can upgrade scratch tests, a technique used widely with cultured cells to study cell migration and wound healing, to the more realistic in vivo realm, by clearing a region of melanocytes and monitoring their return over time. In addition, we show how melanocyte ablation can be used for loss-of-function experiments by damaging neighboring tissue, using the example of abnormal tail regeneration following localized spinal cord damage. Since the size, shape, and depth of melanocytes vary as a function of tadpole age and melanocyte location (head or tail), an ablation threshold chart is given. Mechanisms of laser ablation are also discussed.
Keywords: (140.7090) Ultrafast lasers; (170.1020) Ablation of tissue.