In Vivo Time-Lapse Imaging and Analysis of Dendritic Structural Plasticity in Xenopus laevis Tadpoles

Cold Spring Harb Protoc. 2022 Jan 4;2022(1):pdb.prot106781. doi: 10.1101/pdb.prot106781.


In vivo time-lapse imaging of complete dendritic arbor structures in tectal neurons of Xenopus laevis tadpoles has served as a powerful in vivo model to study activity-dependent structural plasticity in the central nervous system during early development. In addition to quantitative analysis of gross arbor structure, dynamic analysis of the four-dimensional data offers particularly valuable insights into the structural changes occurring in subcellular domains over experience/development-driven structural plasticity events. Such analysis allows not only quantifiable characterization of branch additions and retractions with high temporal resolution but also identification of the loci of action. This allows for a better understanding of the spatiotemporal association of structural changes to functional relevance. Here we describe a protocol for in vivo time-lapse imaging of complete dendritic arbors from individual neurons in the brains of anesthetized tadpoles with two-photon microscopy and data analysis of the time series of 3D dendritic arbors. For data analysis, we focus on dynamic analysis of reconstructed neuronal filaments using a customized open source computer program we developed (4D SPA), which allows aligning and matching of 3D neuronal structures across different time points with greatly improved speed and reliability. File converters are provided to convert reconstructed filament files from commercial reconstruction software to be used in 4D SPA. The program and user manual are publicly accessible and operate through a graphical user interface on both Windows and Mac OSX.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Larva / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity* / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Superior Colliculi* / physiology
  • Time-Lapse Imaging
  • Xenopus laevis