Developments in bioengineering and molecular biology have introduced a palette of genetically encoded probes for identification of specific cell populations in electron microscopy. These probes can be targeted to distinct cellular compartments, rendering them electron dense through a subsequent chemical reaction. These electron densities strongly increase the local contrast in samples prepared for electron microscopy, allowing three major advances in ultrastructural mapping of circuits: genetic identification of circuit components, targeted imaging of regions of interest and automated analysis of the tagged circuits. Together, the gains from these advances can decrease the time required for the analysis of targeted circuit motifs by over two orders of magnitude. These genetic encoded tags for electron microscopy promise to simplify the analysis of circuit motifs and become a central tool for structure-function studies of synaptic connections in the brain. We review the current state-of-the-art with an emphasis on connectomics, the quantitative analysis of neuronal structures and motifs. WIREs Dev Biol 2017, 6:e288. doi: 10.1002/wdev.288 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
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