Modeling sources of interlaboratory variability in electrophysiological properties of mammalian neurons

J Neurophysiol. 2018 Apr 1;119(4):1329-1339. doi: 10.1152/jn.00604.2017. Epub 2017 Dec 20.


Patch-clamp electrophysiology is widely used to characterize neuronal electrical phenotypes. However, there are no standard experimental conditions for in vitro whole cell patch-clamp electrophysiology, complicating direct comparisons between data sets. In this study, we sought to understand how basic experimental conditions differ among laboratories and how these differences might impact measurements of electrophysiological parameters. We curated the compositions of external bath solutions (artificial cerebrospinal fluid), internal pipette solutions, and other methodological details such as animal strain and age from 509 published neurophysiology articles studying rodent neurons. We found that very few articles used the exact same experimental solutions as any other, and some solution differences stem from recipe inheritance from advisor to advisee as well as changing trends over the years. Next, we used statistical models to understand how the use of different experimental conditions impacts downstream electrophysiological measurements such as resting potential and action potential width. Although these experimental condition features could explain up to 43% of the study-to-study variance in electrophysiological parameters, the majority of the variability was left unexplained. Our results suggest that there are likely additional experimental factors that contribute to cross-laboratory electrophysiological variability, and identifying and addressing these will be important to future efforts to assemble consensus descriptions of neurophysiological phenotypes for mammalian cell types. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This article describes how using different experimental methods during patch-clamp electrophysiology impacts downstream physiological measurements. We characterized how methodologies and experimental solutions differ across articles. We found that differences in methods can explain some, but not all, of the study-to-study variance in electrophysiological measurements. Explicitly accounting for methodological differences using statistical models can help correct downstream electrophysiological measurements for cross-laboratory methodology differences.

Keywords: chemical solutions; computational modeling; electrophysiology; experimental conditions; intrinsic physiology: meta-analysis; metadata; patch clamp.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Mammals
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurophysiology / methods
  • Neurophysiology / standards*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / standards*