Electrophysiology (Patch-clamp, field recordings, neurons, cardiac & more)

Electrophysiology is the study of the electrical properties of biological cells and tissues, such as the electrical activity of neurons in the brain or myocytes in the heart. In neuroscience, electophysiology techniques include field recordings for measuring activity from cell populations, patch-clamp electrophysiology measuring single neuron or single ion channel activity, and much more. In cardiology, electrophysiology has helped scientists and clinicians to better understand how the heart functions, with the potential to treat cardiac diseases. Other applications of electrophysiology include studying excitable cells in muscle fibers, pancreatic beta cells, and ion channels in the kidney nephron.

Because patch-clamp electrophysiology is such a fine and delicate laboratory technique, obtaining healthy tissue slices with a high number of viable cells is crucial to successful experiments. In neurobiology, acute brain slices need to have a high ratio of viable neurons within the top few cellular layers that can be patch-clamped with ease. The process of cutting brain slices also needs to occur rapidly, to prevent neuron death. Therefore, the process requires a vibratome that can quickly make high quality acute brain slices without shearing neurons on the surface.

Common problems encountered with electrophysiology tissue slices

One key problem with making acute brain slices or other live slices from different organ systems (heart, muscle, kidney, pancreas) is that many vibratomes on the market will shear the tissue while cutting. Their cutting blades will push against the brain sample because the tissue is not stabilized during the cutting process. Surface layer neurons of newly made acute brain slices suffer from shearing damage and die, resulting in a lack of healthy neurons for patch-clamp electrophysiology.

Making better tissue slices for electrophysiology

The quality of your experiments will depend on the quality of your tissue slices. The Compresstome® vibrating microtome has been scientifically demonstrated to create superior acute brain slices with a higher number of viable neurons for patch-clamp experiments. How does the Compresstome® do this? Our vibrating microtome produces smooth, consistent acute brain slices by:

    • Stabilizing the brain tissue during the cutting process through 360-degree agarose embedding
    • Allowing for faster slicing, which decreases time of damage to cells
    • Utilizing a high-frequency vibrating mechanism to reduce trauma to the top surface of tissue slices
    • Reducing tissue shearing by eliminating the Z-axis deflection of the cutting blade using our patented Auto Zero-Z® technology

Diagram of Compresstome® slicing

Tissues like mouse brains are embedded in agarose inside a specimen tube, where they are stabilized for cutting to form free-floating sections.

Compresstome® produces brain slices with higher neuronal viability

This study demonstrates significantly higher proportions of live neurons in many brain regions from slices cut with a Compresstome® vibrating microtome, compared to other vibratomes.

Compresstome® for your electrophysiology workflow

In addition, the Compresstome® vibrating microtome can help produce tissue slices at several points of your experimental workflow: 

Where the Compresstome® vibrating microtome can help your electrophysiology workflow:

This is a summary of the electrophysiology experimental process. All steps highlighted in yellow is where the Compresstome® vibrating microtome can help you achieve high quality tissue slices. You can get acute brain slices for patch-clamp electrophysiology, and also later for immunohistochemistry (IHC) or culture.

Real lab examples of compresstome® for electrophysiology

Neuroscience at the Allen Institute

Often heralded as leaders in the field, the Allen Brain institute performs pioneering research on all manner of brain tissue. Working with brain tissue can often be as frustrating as it is rewarding. For over a decade, researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science have been using the Compresstome® vibrating microtome to help give them better brain slices with increased longevity and reduced damage to surface neurons. This enables neuroscientists to have healthy neurons for patch-clamp electrophysiology experiments. This video takes you on a virtual tour of whole cell patch clamp electrophysiology at the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

Reflections on a decade of patching in adult brain slices

Jonathan T. Ting is an Assistant Investigator at the Allen Institute, where he joined in 2013 to provide electrophysiology expertise for the Human Cell Types program, and to develop functional assays on human ex vivo brain slides. Dr. Ting has more than 15 years of experience in patch clamp electrophysiology. In this webinar, Dr. Ting provides reflections of his experience on a decade of patching adult brain slices. He discusses which key steps in the brain slice process is most important and why, and challenges our conventional beliefs of slicing solutions and methodologies. Finally, he provides recommended tips and tricks based on his experience and research

Using electrophysiological methods to examine e-cigarette flavors’ effect on dopamine neuron function

Dr. Henderson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. In addition, Dr. Henderson is now one of two co-Chairs for the Basic Science Network in the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (www.SRNT.org). The Henderson lab focuses on the role tobacco and vaping flavors play in addiction-related behaviors, and uses the Compresstome® vibrating microtome to make all of their acute brain slices for patch-clamp electrophysiology. Thus far, they have shown that menthol and green apple flavors can enhance nicotine vapor self-administration and do so by directly altering dopamine neurons in the midbrain.

Compresstome® for sectioning live myocardial slices for cardiac research

The Smyth Laboratory, led by James Smyth, Ph.D., studies cardiomyopathy at a subcellular level, searching for  potential targets for therapeutic interventions to help restore normal cardiac function to diseased hearts. In this video, Dr. James Smyth shows how to section live myocardial slices with the Precisionary Instrument’s VF-300 Compresstome®, and uses them for tissue culture and calcium imaging.

References and Protocols

Microtomes from Precisionary Instruments have been used by labs around the world, and cited in hundreds of peer-reviewed publications. Explore these references by experiment, animal model, and organ system. For convenience, we also put together key experimental protocols to help you.