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Expansion Microscopy: A Powerful Nanoscale Imaging Tool For Neuroscientists

Brendan Gallagher, Yongxin Zhao
Published 2021 · Medicine

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One of the biggest unsolved questions in neuroscience is how molecules and neuronal circuitry create behaviors, and how their misregulation or dysfunction results in neurological disease. Light microscopy is a vital tool for the study of neural molecules and circuits. However, the fundamental optical diffraction limit precludes the use of conventional light microscopy for sufficient characterization of critical signaling compartments and nanoscopic organizations of synapse-associated molecules. We have witnessed rapid development of super-resolution microscopy methods that circumvent the resolution limit by controlling the number of emitting molecules in specific imaging volumes and allow highly resolved imaging in the 10-100 nm range. Most recently, Expansion Microscopy (ExM) emerged as an alternative solution to overcome the diffraction limit by physically magnifying biological specimens, including nervous systems. Here, we discuss how ExM works in general and currently available ExM methods. We then review ExM imaging in a wide range of nervous systems, including Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, zebrafish, mouse, and human, and their applications to synaptic imaging, neuronal tracing, and the study of neurological disease. Finally, we provide our prospects for expansion microscopy as a powerful nanoscale imaging tool in the neurosciences.
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