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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 18, 2021

Nanoscale imaging of the functional anatomy of the brain

Misa Arizono ORCID logo, Stéphane Bancelin ORCID logo, Philipp Bethge, Ronan Chéreau ORCID logo, Agata Idziak, V.V.G. Krishna Inavalli ORCID logo, Thomas Pfeiffer, Jan Tønnesen ORCID logo and U. Valentin Nägerl ORCID logo
From the journal Neuroforum


Progress in microscopy technology has a long history of triggering major advances in neuroscience. Super-resolution microscopy (SRM), famous for shattering the diffraction barrier of light microscopy, is no exception. SRM gives access to anatomical designs and dynamics of nanostructures, which are impossible to resolve using conventional light microscopy, from the elaborate anatomy of neurons and glial cells, to the organelles and molecules inside of them. In this review, we will mainly focus on a particular SRM technique (STED microscopy), and explain a series of technical developments we have made over the years to make it practical and viable in the field of neuroscience. We will also highlight several neurobiological findings on the dynamic structure-function relationship of neurons and glia cells, which illustrate the value of live-cell STED microscopy, especially when combined with other modern approaches to investigate the nanoscale behavior of brain cells.


Fortschritte in der Mikroskopie-Technik haben in der Vergangenheit immer wieder große Durchbrüche in den Neurowissenschaften ausgelöst. Die superauflösende Fluoreszenzmikroskopie, berühmt für die Durchbrechung der Beugungsgrenze der Lichtmikroskopie, bildet hier keine Ausnahme. Sie ermöglicht beispiellosen Zugang zum anatomischen Aufbau und der Dynamik von Nanostrukturen, die mit konventioneller Lichtmikroskopie nicht auflösbar sind, von der ausgefeilten Anatomie der Nerven- und Gliazellen bis hin zu den Organellen und Proteinen in ihrem Inneren. In diesem Überblicksartikel werden wir hauptsächlich auf die STED-Mikroskopie eingehen und eine Reihe von technischen Neuerungen erläutern, die wir im Laufe der Jahre anwendungsspezifisch dafür entwickelt haben. Wir werden dabei einige unserer neurobiologischen Untersuchungen und Resultate über Synapsen, Gliazellen und den Extrazellulär-Raum vorstellen, wo die ,live-cell‘ STED-Mikroskopie in Kombination mit anderen modernen Ansätzen einen entscheidenden Beitrag leisten konnte.

Corresponding author: U. Valentin Nägerl, Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience, University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France, E-mail:

Funding source: Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP)

Funding source: Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR)

Funding source: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)

Funding source: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Program

Funding source: ATIP – Avenir Program (Inserm)

Funding source: EMBO

Funding source: Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (FRM)

Funding source: Fédération pour la recherche sur le cerveau (FRC)

Funding source: AXA Foundation

Funding source: Lundbeck Foundation

Funding source: Labex BRAIN

Funding source: Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds


We would like to warmly thank all the people who have contributed to our efforts over the years, including lab members and visitors (Angeles Almeida, Aude Panatier, Cordelia Imig, Elena Avignone, Emanuele Murana, Fabien Nadrigny, Julie Angibaud, Kosuke Okuda, Lasani Wijetunge, Luc Mercier, Mark Sherwood, Martin Lenz, Motohiro Nozumi, Stefanie Poll, Sun Kwang Kim) and collaborators (Daniel Cattaert, Daniel Choquet, David DiGregorio, Dmitri Rusakov, Giovanni Marsicano, Jean-Baptiste Sibarita, Jerome Badaut, Martin Fuhrmann, Peter C. Kind, Serge Marty, Stefan W. Hell, Stephane Oliet).

  1. Author contributions: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

  2. Research funding: We are also grateful for the financial support from these funding agencies: Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR), Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Marie Skłodowska-Curie Program, ATIP – Avenir Program (Inserm), EMBO, Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (FRM), Fédération pour la recherche sur le cerveau (FRC), AXA Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, Labex BRAIN, Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds.

  3. Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding this article.


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Published Online: 2021-03-18
Published in Print: 2021-05-26

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