Current approaches for dynamic profiling of single cells rely on dissociated cultures, which lack important biological features existing in tissues. Organotypic slice cultures preserve aspects of structural and synaptic organisation within the brain and are amenable to microscopy, but established techniques are not well adapted for high throughput or longitudinal single cell analysis. Here we developed a custom-built, automated confocal imaging platform, with improved organotypic slice culture and maintenance. The approach enables fully automated image acquisition and four-dimensional tracking of morphological changes within individual cells in organotypic cultures from rodent and human primary tissues for at least 3 weeks. To validate this system, we analysed neurons expressing a disease-associated version of huntingtin (HTT586Q138-EGFP), and observed that they displayed hallmarks of Huntington's disease and died sooner than controls. By facilitating longitudinal single-cell analyses of neuronal physiology, our system bridges scales necessary to attain statistical power to detect developmental and disease phenotypes.
Keywords: Animal disease models; Confocal microscopy; Neurodegeneration; Time-lapse imaging; Tissue culture.