In vivo two-photon imaging of motoneurons and adjacent glia in the ventral spinal cord

J Neurosci Methods. 2018 Apr 1;299:8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2018.01.005. Epub 2018 Feb 3.


Background: Interactions between motoneurons and glial cells are pivotal to regulate and maintain functional states and synaptic connectivity in the spinal cord. In vivo two-photon imaging of the nervous system provided novel and unexpected knowledge about structural and physiological changes in the grey matter of the forebrain and in the dorsal white matter of the spinal cord.

New method: Here, we describe a novel experimental strategy to investigate the spinal grey matter, i.e. the ventral horn motoneurons and their adjacent glial cells by employing in vivo two-photon laser-scanning microscopy (2P-LSM) in anesthetized transgenic mice.

Results: After retrograde tracer labelling in transgenic mice with cell-specific expression of fluorescent proteins and surgical exposure of the lumbar intumescence groups of motoneurons could be visualized deeply localized in the ventral horn. In this region, morphological responses of microglial cells to ATP could be recorded for an hour. In addition, using in mice with expression of GCaMP3 in astrocytes, physiological Ca2+ signals could be recorded after local noradrenalin application.

Comparison with existing methods: Previous in vivo imaging protocols were restricted to the superficial dorsal white matter or upper layers of the dorsal horn. Here, we modified a multi-step procedure originally established for a root-crush injury. We adapted it to simultaneously visualize motoneurons and adjacent glial cells in living animals.

Conclusion: A modified surgery approach is presented to visualize fluorescently labelled motoneurons and glial cells at a depth of more than 200 μm in the grey matter ventral horn of the mouse spinal cord.

Keywords: Glial cells; In vivo two-photon imaging; Motoneurons; Ventral spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anterior Horn Cells / cytology
  • Anterior Horn Cells / physiology*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique / methods
  • Gray Matter / cytology
  • Gray Matter / physiology
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Motor Neurons / cytology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Optical Imaging / methods*
  • Spinal Cord Ventral Horn / surgery