Two-photon probes for in vivo multicolor microscopy of the structure and signals of brain cells

Brain Struct Funct. 2018 Sep;223(7):3011-3043. doi: 10.1007/s00429-018-1678-1. Epub 2018 May 11.


Imaging the brain of living laboratory animals at a microscopic scale can be achieved by two-photon microscopy thanks to the high penetrability and low phototoxicity of the excitation wavelengths used. However, knowledge of the two-photon spectral properties of the myriad fluorescent probes is generally scarce and, for many, non-existent. In addition, the use of different measurement units in published reports further hinders the design of a comprehensive imaging experiment. In this review, we compile and homogenize the two-photon spectral properties of 280 fluorescent probes. We provide practical data, including the wavelengths for optimal two-photon excitation, the peak values of two-photon action cross section or molecular brightness, and the emission ranges. Beyond the spectroscopic description of these fluorophores, we discuss their binding to biological targets. This specificity allows in vivo imaging of cells, their processes, and even organelles and other subcellular structures in the brain. In addition to probes that monitor endogenous cell metabolism, studies of healthy and diseased brain benefit from the specific binding of certain probes to pathology-specific features, ranging from amyloid-β plaques to the autofluorescence of certain antibiotics. A special focus is placed on functional in vivo imaging using two-photon probes that sense specific ions or membrane potential, and that may be combined with optogenetic actuators. Being closely linked to their use, we examine the different routes of intravital delivery of these fluorescent probes according to the target. Finally, we discuss different approaches, strategies, and prerequisites for two-photon multicolor experiments in the brains of living laboratory animals.

Keywords: Calcium imaging; Electroporation; Functional imaging; Intravital; Multicolor microscopy; Two-photon cross section.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Diseases / metabolism*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology*
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Fluorescent Dyes / administration & dosage*
  • Genes, Reporter*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Voltage-Sensitive Dye Imaging*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Luminescent Proteins