Biosensing Motor Neuron Membrane Potential in Live Zebrafish Embryos

J Vis Exp. 2017 Jun 26:(124):55297. doi: 10.3791/55297.


The protocols described here are designed to allow researchers to study cell communication without altering the integrity of the environment in which the cells are located. Specifically, they have been developed to analyze the electrical activity of excitable cells, such as spinal neurons. In such a scenario, it is crucial to preserve the integrity of the spinal cell, but it is also important to preserve the anatomy and physiological shape of the systems involved. Indeed, the comprehension of the manner in which the nervous system-and other complex systems-works must be based on a systemic approach. For this reason, the live zebrafish embryo was chosen as a model system, and the spinal neuron membrane voltage changes were evaluated without interfering with the physiological conditions of the embryos. Here, an approach combining the employment of zebrafish embryos with a FRET-based biosensor is described. Zebrafish embryos are characterized by a very simplified nervous system and are particularly suited for imaging applications thanks to their transparency, allowing for the employment of fluorescence-based voltage indicators at the plasma membrane during zebrafish development. The synergy between these two components makes it possible to analyze the electrical activity of the cells in intact living organisms, without perturbing the physiological state. Finally, this non-invasive approach can co-exist with other analyses (e.g., spontaneous movement recordings, as shown here).

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Zebrafish / embryology*