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Techniques in Electrophysiology What you are expected to gain from this lecture: 1 . Approaches 2 . In-vivo vs. in-vitro preparations 3 . Advantages & Pitfalls 4 . Types of Measures. 5 Common Ephys Approaches: EEG Extracellular/Local Field Potentials

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Techniques in Electrophysiology

What you are expected to gain from this lecture:

1. Approaches

2. In-vivo vs. in-vitro preparations

3. Advantages & Pitfalls

4. Types of Measures


5 Common Ephys Approaches:


Extracellular/Local Field Potentials

Intracellular – Sharp Electrode

Patch-Clamp Configurations

Multi-Unit Array Recordings



Recording spontaneous brain (voltage volume conductance) activity from the scalp, described in rhythmic activity: Delta (<4 Hz), theta (4-7 Hz), gamma (30-100 Hz)

Clinical Neuroscience: epilepsy, coma, tumors, stroke,

focal brain damage, depth of anesthesia

Coordinate cortical activity = high contribution

Deep structure activity = low contribution

Application to Cognitive Psychology:

Evoked Potentials: time lock of EEG to presentation

of stimuli

Event Related Potentials: average of EEG over many

trials of higher processing conditions

(e.g., memory, attention)

N1 or P3 = coma recovery


Patch-Clamp Electrophysiology

Apply positive pressure(2-6 MΩ)

Clear tissue as you move down

Near cell membrane > ‘bubble’

Apply negative pressure > suction

until 1 GΩ seal


4 Common Patch-Clamp Configurations










>1 GΩ seal – going ‘whole-cell’ does not compromise the seal: prevents leak current & extracellular buffer from entering the neuron



perforated patch recording
Perforated Patch Recording

~20-30 min

~10-15 min


Back-filling – nystatin, gramicidin, or amphotericin B (antibiotic/antifungal) – creates pores for select ions to pass

Pros: Prevent dialysis of the intracellular contents & current run-down, used for hard to patch cells

Cons: slow, high access resistance, weak membrane which leads to whole-cell configuration


Voltage vs. Current Clamp

Voltage Clamp: holding the cell at a predetermined value (e.g., -70 mV)

the amount of current (e.g., mA) required to maintain that value is recorded

voltage-dependent K+ channels, spontaneous EPSCs

Cons: Space Clamp (i.e., inability to adequately maintain holding command in distal dendrites) & washout of cytosolic factors in whole-cell

Current Clamp: can be used to measure the ‘resting membrane potential’

current is injected into the cell to maintain a predetermined membrane potential (e.g., -80 mV)

the injected current is constant and free fluctuations in the membrane potential are recorded

AP waveform, plasticity of EPSPs, intrinsic excitability


Somatic current injection producing AP firing


Local Field Potentials - fEPSPs

SA = stimulus artifact

* = presynaptic fiber volley – presynaptic activity

generated by stimulation

fEPSP = field excitatory postsynaptic


PS = somatic population spike – coordinated spiking activity

The initial slope of the fEPSP (mV/ ms) in the s.r. is a widely used measure in LTP studies











Intracellular/Sharp Recording

Intracellular recording – used ‘sharp’ glass electrodes with > 25 MΩ resistance

(#1) records the change in membrane potential that the incoming current causes

(#2) fEPSP without a clear presynaptic fiber volley


Single Channel Recordings

Cell-attached (CA), inside-out (IO), and outside-out (OO) patches

Patch typically contains one or a few channels

Measure channel open probability, open time at different voltages or in the presence of a test compound

CA: stable (>20GΩ seal), low-background but less control over holding potential

IO: access to intracellular sites & signaling pathways, difficult to obtain, must replace bath solution from external to internal

OO: repetitive & different doses, but less stable, disruption of cytoskeleton



1. Acute slices

2. Organotypic cultures

3. Dissociated cultures

4. Cell Lines

5. In vivo


Acute Slices

Widely used technique

Usually from adolescent rodents, coronal sections

Used the day they are made

Best to do cardiac perfusion to maintain slice viability

Buffer must be oxygenated and at the correct pH/osmolarity

Pros: treatments can be done in vivo, numerous brain regions can be prepared, slices are not too excitable, can combine ephys with confocal imaging, versatile (voltage or current clamp, fields, intracellular, plasticity, etc)

Cons: difficult to get viable slices in adult rodents, confound of recordings in adolescents …translatation to adults, afferents are severed, there are changes in instrinsic excitability over the day of recording, bath application of drugs

organotypic slice cultures
Organotypic Slice Cultures

Multiple brain regions (hpc, co-cultures) grown on porous membrane inserts

Prepared from 2-8 day old rodent pups

Maintained for months

Helios Gene Gun – can be used to load gold particles coated with cDNA into cells on the day of culturing to change protein expression

dissociated cultures
Dissociated Cultures

Typically prepared in low- or high-density from embryonic or <24 h old pups

Hippocampal, Cortical, Striatal cultures are common

Cultured Primary

Dissociated Neurons


Acutely Dissociated Neurons - the neurons preserve their dendritic structure proximal to the soma, maintain intact synaptic boutons, and are largely devoid of glialensheathments.


Pros: Self-cleaning after insult during preparation, highly controllable experimental conditions, ease & success of growing & maintaining, can be used almost anytime, gene gun & lentiviral expression is easy, combine with imaging, focal drug application & whole-cell currents in dissociated neurons, glutamate uncaging/calcium transients in dendritic spines (dissociated neurons), versatile (current & voltage clamp, fEPSPs, etc)

Cons: Thin over time, loss of afferents (except hpc), developmental differences, contamination, highly excitable (transections), dissociated neurons don’t have intrinsic networks or glial cells, de novo expression of excitatory connections


Cell Lines

HEK 293 Cells


PC-12 Adrenal Cells

Pros: excellent for answering certain ?’s

Express select proteins

Point mutation studies

Model system for neuronal differentiation

Cons: Non-mammalian , non-CNS cells

Lack complete neuronal constituents

(e.g., signaling complexes)


In Vivo Recordings

Performed under anesthesia or in freely-moving rodents

Intra- & extra-cellular, whole-cell, single or multi-unit array recordings

Network Properties: Can stimulate in one region and record in another

(e.g., mPFC influence on NAc plasticity)

Phase locking to brain rhythms

(e.g., mPFC neurons & hippocampal theta)


In Vivo Recordings

Lee et al., 2006, Neuron, v51, p399


Multi-unit Array Recordings

Pros: recording from an in vivo situation, network activity, population & single cell activity, phase locking of gamma & theta rhythms, correlation of neuronal or network activity with ongoing behavior, becoming more common

Cons: Technically difficult, confound of anesthesia, application of mathematics to isolate data, probes are time-consuming to fabricate

data data data
Data, data, data

AP: waveform, peak, half-width, AHP, frequency, back-propagating AP

Subthreshold excitatory postsynaptic potentials: LTP, LTD

Current-Voltage relationships: Mg unblock of NMDA receptors, shifts in voltage activation & inactivation curves

Paired-pulse facilitation: second event that follows is up to 5X as large due to increased probability of presynaptic vesicle release

miniEPSPs – recorded in presence of TTX:

changes in amplitude: postsynaptic event

changes in frequency: presynaptic release


Data, data, data

Spike Sorting – used in multi-array recording to assign spikes to different neurons based on their spike properties

Pharmacological & Electrical Isolation of distinct currents