During the last decade, numerous studies have demonstrated that the actin cytoskeleton plays a pivotal role in the control of dendritic spine shape. Synaptic stimulation rapidly changes the actin dynamics and many actin regulators have been shown to play roles in neuron functionality. Accordingly, defects in the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton in neurons have been implicated in memory disorders. Due to the small size of spines, it is difficult to detect changes in the actin structures in dendritic spines by conventional light microscopy imaging. Instead, to know how tightly actin filaments are bundled together, and how fast the filaments turnover, we need to use advanced microscopy techniques, such as fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), photoactivatable green fluorescent protein (PAGFP) fluorescence decay and fluorescence anisotropy. Fluorescence anisotropy, which measures the Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) between two GFP fluorophores, has been proposed as a method to measure the level of actin polymerization. Here, we propose a novel idea that fluorescence anisotropy could be more suitable to study the level of actin filament bundling instead of actin polymerization. We validate the method in U2OS cell line where the actin structures can be clearly distinguished and apply to analyze how actin filament organization in dendritic spines changes during neuronal maturation. In addition to fluorescence anisotropy validation, we take a critical look at the properties and limitations of FRAP and PAGFP fluorescence decay methods and offer our proposals for the analysis methods for these approaches. These three methods complement each other, each providing additional information about actin dynamics and organization in dendritic spines.
Keywords: FRAP; FRET; PAGFP; actin; dendritic spine.