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Long-term optical imaging of the spinal cord in awake, behaving animals

Authors: Biafra Ahanonu, Andrew Crowther, Artur Kania, Mariela Rosa Casillas, Allan Basbaum
Publication: bioRxiv
Date: May 24, 2023
Link to article: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.05.22.541477v1


Advances in optical imaging approaches and fluorescent biosensors have enabled an understanding of the spatiotemporal and long-term neural dynamics in the brain of awake animals. However, methodological difficulties and the persistence of post-laminectomy fibrosis have greatly limited similar advances in the spinal cord. To overcome these technical obstacles, we combined in vivo application of fluoropolymer membranes that inhibit fibrosis; a redesigned, cost-effective implantable spinal imaging chamber; and improved motion correction methods that together permit imaging of the spinal cord in awake, behaving mice, for months to over a year. We also demonstrate a robust ability to monitor axons, identify a spinal cord somatotopic map, conduct Ca2+ imaging of neural dynamics in behaving animals responding to pain-provoking stimuli, and observe persistent microglial changes after nerve injury. The ability to couple neural activity and behavior at the spinal cord level will drive insights not previously possible at a key location for somatosensory transmission to the brain.

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