In vivo imaging using two-photon microscopy in mice that have been genetically engineered to express fluorescent proteins in specific cell types has significantly broadened our knowledge of physiological and pathological processes in numerous tissues in vivo. In studies of the central nervous system (CNS), there has been a broad application of in vivo imaging in the brain, which has produced a plethora of novel and often unexpected findings about the behavior of cells such as neurons, astrocytes, microglia, under physiological or pathological conditions. However, mostly technical complications have limited the implementation of in vivo imaging in studies of the living mouse spinal cord. In particular, the anatomical proximity of the spinal cord to the lungs and heart generates significant movement artifact that makes imaging the living spinal cord a challenging task. We developed a novel method that overcomes the inherent limitations of spinal cord imaging by stabilizing the spinal column, reducing respiratory-induced movements and thereby facilitating the use of two-photon microscopy to image the mouse spinal cord in vivo. This is achieved by combining a customized spinal stabilization device with a method of deep anesthesia, resulting in a significant reduction of respiratory-induced movements. This video protocol shows how to expose a small area of the living spinal cord that can be maintained under stable physiological conditions over extended periods of time by keeping tissue injury and bleeding to a minimum. Representative raw images acquired in vivo detail in high resolution the close relationship between microglia and the vasculature. A timelapse sequence shows the dynamic behavior of microglial processes in the living mouse spinal cord. Moreover, a continuous scan of the same z-frame demonstrates the outstanding stability that this method can achieve to generate stacks of images and/or timelapse movies that do not require image alignment post-acquisition. Finally, we show how this method can be used to revisit and reimage the same area of the spinal cord at later timepoints, allowing for longitudinal studies of ongoing physiological or pathological processes in vivo.
Copyright © 2012 Journal of Visualized Experiments