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Cold Spring Harb Protoc. 2012 Mar 1;2012(3):326-34. doi: 10.1101/pdb.prot068155.

In vivo labeling of cortical astrocytes with sulforhodamine 101 (SR101).


Fluorescent markers that stain particular cell types in the intact brain are essential tools for fluorescence microscopy because they enable studies of structure and function of cells identified in this way. Although cell type-specific fluorescence staining can be achieved through promoter-driven expression of fluorescent proteins, this genetic approach is generally labor- and cost-intensive. Alternative viral approaches for targeted fluorophore expression are relatively invasive. For astrocytes, there is a simple alternative. This protocol describes an easy and robust method for rapid (within minutes) and high-contrast staining of astrocytes in defined regions of the intact rodent cortex using the synthetic, water-soluble but non-fixable red fluorescent dye sulforhodamine 101 (SR101). Selective staining is achieved through local uptake and gap junction-mediated spread of SR101 following its topical application or injection into tissue. Applications, technical pitfalls, and limitations of the SR101-staining technique are discussed. Given its simplicity and reliability, SR101 staining is a valuable tool for the study of astrocyte function in the intact brain and for in vivo fluorescence microscopy in general.

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