Indexed on: 05 Apr '07Published on: 05 Apr '07Published in: Nature Protocols
Dendritic spines are small protrusions present postsynaptically at approximately 90% of excitatory synapses in the brain. Spines undergo rapid spontaneous changes in shape that are thought to be important for alterations in synaptic connectivity underlying learning and memory. Visualization of these dynamic changes in spine morphology are especially challenging because of the small size of spines (approximately 1 microm). Here we describe a microscope system, based on a spinning-disk confocal microscope, suitable for imaging mature dendritic spines in brain slice preparations, with a time resolution of seconds. We discuss two commonly used in vitro brain slice preparations and methods for transfecting them. Preparation and transfection require approximately 1 d, after which slices must be cultured for at least 21 d to obtain spines of mature morphology. We also describe imaging and computer analysis routines for studying spine motility. These procedures require in the order of 2 to 4 h.