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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Nov 12;110(46):18374-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216287110. Epub 2013 Oct 28.

High-speed laser microsurgery of alert fruit flies for fluorescence imaging of neural activity.

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Departments of Biology, Applied Physics, and Electrical Engineering, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford Photonics Research Center, and CNC Program, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.


Intravital microscopy is a key means of monitoring cellular function in live organisms, but surgical preparation of a live animal for microscopy often is time-consuming, requires considerable skill, and limits experimental throughput. Here we introduce a spatially precise (<1-µm edge precision), high-speed (<1 s), largely automated, and economical protocol for microsurgical preparation of live animals for optical imaging. Using a 193-nm pulsed excimer laser and the fruit fly as a model, we created observation windows (12- to 350-µm diameters) in the exoskeleton. Through these windows we used two-photon microscopy to image odor-evoked Ca(2+) signaling in projection neuron dendrites of the antennal lobe and Kenyon cells of the mushroom body. The impact of a laser-cut window on fly health appears to be substantially less than that of conventional manual dissection, for our imaging durations of up to 18 h were ∼5-20 times longer than prior in vivo microscopy studies of hand-dissected flies. This improvement will facilitate studies of numerous questions in neuroscience, such as those regarding neuronal plasticity or learning and memory. As a control, we used phototaxis as an exemplary complex behavior in flies and found that laser microsurgery is sufficiently gentle to leave it intact. To demonstrate that our techniques are applicable to other species, we created microsurgical openings in nematodes, ants, and the mouse cranium. In conjunction with emerging robotic methods for handling and mounting flies or other small organisms, our rapid, precisely controllable, and highly repeatable microsurgical techniques should enable automated, high-throughput preparation of live animals for optical experimentation.


Drosophila melanogaster; calcium imaging; laser surgery

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