Photodiode-Based Optical Imaging for Recording Network Dynamics with Single-Neuron Resolution in Non-Transgenic Invertebrates

J Vis Exp. 2020 Jul 9;(161). doi: 10.3791/61623.


The development of transgenic invertebrate preparations in which the activity of specifiable sets of neurons can be recorded and manipulated with light represents a revolutionary advance for studies of the neural basis of behavior. However, a downside of this development is its tendency to focus investigators on a very small number of "designer" organisms (e.g., C. elegans and Drosophila), potentially negatively impacting the pursuit of comparative studies across many species, which is needed for identifying general principles of network function. The present article illustrates how optical recording with voltage-sensitive dyes in the brains of non-transgenic gastropod species can be used to rapidly (i.e., within the time course of single experiments) reveal features of the functional organization of their neural networks with single-cell resolution. We outline in detail the dissection, staining, and recording methods used by our laboratory to obtain action potential traces from dozens to ~150 neurons during behaviorally relevant motor programs in the CNS of multiple gastropod species, including one new to neuroscience - the nudibranch Berghia stephanieae. Imaging is performed with absorbance voltage-sensitive dyes and a 464-element photodiode array that samples at 1,600 frames/second, fast enough to capture all action potentials generated by the recorded neurons. Multiple several-minute recordings can be obtained per preparation with little to no signal bleaching or phototoxicity. The raw optical data collected through the methods described can subsequently be analyzed through a variety of illustrated methods. Our optical recording approach can be readily used to probe network activity in a variety of non-transgenic species, making it well suited for comparative studies of how brains generate behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Optical Imaging / methods*


  • Fluorescent Dyes