MICROSCOPY/OPTOGENETICS: Neuroscience 2014 emphasizes instrumentation

Technology was a focus at Neuroscience 2014 (November 15-19; Washington, DC), where in past years the tools behind the developments have been difficult to discern.

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Technology was a focus at Neuroscience 2014 (November 15-19; Washington, DC), where in past years the tools behind the developments have been difficult to discern. Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Executive Director Marty Saggese told me that SfN President Carol Mason (of Columbia University) was the reason for this change. Mason herself told me that the U.S.'s Brain Research through Advancing Imaging Neurotechnologies Initiative, known as the BRAIN Initiative, is a major factor in this emphasis. The focus on tools constitutes a significant shift for the Neuroscience program, and Mason hopes students will remain focused on research instead of becoming specialists in the use of particular instruments. But the equipment certainly enables research advances.

The results of the shift were evident in the conference program, which was to include a special lecture on nanoscopy with focused light by Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, who unfortunately had to cancel because of illness (nonetheless, the recent Nobel Prize inspired significant buzz at the event). Also on the program, as part of the Meet-the-Expert Series, was Stanford University's Mark Schnitzer speaking on large-scale optical imaging of ensemble neural activity in freely behaving animals.

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Kendall Research's FireFly is a complete system for wireless optical neuromodulation.

Optogenetics was the focus of a SfN-sponsored "purely social event" chaired by Stephan Lammel of UC Berkeley and co-chair Elizabeth E. Steinberg, as well as a number of poster sessions, including those focused on optogenetics tools development, integration with electrophysiology, and experimental uses. The technique was fairly ubiquitous in the exhibit hall as well. Kendall Research Systems used the event to announce the commercial launch of its FCC- and CE-compliant FireFly wireless optogenetics system, which includes a wireless power transmitter, ultralight headstages with replaceable multisite, LED-based optics (>200mW/mm2 max optical power density/channel), and telemetry access point. FireFly enables wirelessly programmed precision waveforms, support for many simultaneous subjects, a custom Windows/Mac/Linux-supported API for custom scripting of experiments, closed-loop triggering, and integration with other tools. Many other vendors touted optogenetics offerings, too, including Thorlabs, which has responded to the surge of interest in the technique with low-cost tools for researchers wanting to build their own systems.

Thorlabs noted that mid-infrared is a focus area for the company, which now offers $8,000 mid-IR lasers. And the company distributed a fabulous diagram showing the flexibility of its modular Cerna-series microscopy setups.

Tools for microscopy

Of course, microscopy was a major focus at Neuroscience. Olympus targets a broad audience with its FV-OSR super-resolution (~120 nm) technology, offering affordable, automated, easy-to-use operation with two colors and no special dyes; the company says that objectives make total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) or structured illumination hardware unnecessary. The company hosted speakers from the Stanford University lab of optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth at an evening event. Among the topics discussed was fast, high-resolution brain imaging with light microscopy. Carl Zeiss Microscopy, too, hosted an evening event, which featured renowned neuroscientist Stephen J. Smith, a senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. And the company called its Zeiss LSM 880 with Airyscan a major milestone: A confocal instrument designed on the basis of user need, its new detection concept uses an array detector to oversample each Airy disk to substantially boost sensitivity, resolution (1.7 higher in x, y, and z!), and speed. The result, says Zeiss, is quantitative imaging with great productivity: large fields of view and high-quality images of even the most challenging specimens.

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Zeiss's LSM 880 with Airyscan uses 32 detectors instead of a single pinhole to image an Airy disk pattern. Airyscan is also available as an add-on for existing Zeiss systems.

Through an educational program at the event, Zeiss offered tips on improving imaging of cleared samples. Indeed, optical clearing (which enables greater use of photonics methods) has clearly taken hold in neuroscience, as other vendors, too, discussed the technique.

Photometrics showcased its high-performance EMCCD and CCD cameras, including the super-fast Evolve 128, which promises the highest frame rates available with extreme sensitivity for low-light applications. And Hamamatsu showed off its W-View Gemini, offering simultaneous dual-wavelength imaging in a single camera for high-speed ratiometric imaging and other multiple-fluorescence applications. Another developer of scientific cameras, Lumenera, demoed the scientific-grade variant of its 30 frames/s LT665 Infinity. The competitively priced unit is a high-sensitivity, low-noise, CCD-based USB 3.0 camera.

Mad City Labs demonstrated its highly flexible RM21 precision-aligned microscope platform for epifluorescence microscopy. Specific adaptations of the platform include, for instance, micro-mirror TIRF: The setup eliminates dichroic, separates emission from excitation, and enables clear views of biochemistry.

LUDL Electronic Products displayed its BioPrecision3 LM "next-generation" motorized stage featuring high performance in a more compact, lightweight package. Its new drive technology has fewer moving parts and fewer maintenance requirements at the same price.

Lumencor reported a unique ability to overcome the "green gap" that plagues LED-based technologies with low power. The company says it provides 10x the brightness of competitors in yellow/green regions of the spectrum, and includes a broadly emitting light pipe for green and yellow outputs.

And Lumen Dynamics, now part of Excelitas Technologies, noted its new X-Cite 110 LED, a compact white light LED source for fluorescence imaging that uses liquid light guide coupling to deliver broad-spectrum optical power with field uniformity at the specimen level.

A company known for its custom microscope objectives, Navitar demonstrated its new MicroMate 3:1 zoom lens system, which overcomes vignetting while offering a large field of view.

Bitplane used the event to launch its Imaris8 3D/4D visualization and analysis software, while DNA sequencing instrument maker Illumina was there to showcase its capabilities for neuroscience research.

Neuroscience 2015 will take place October 17-21 in Chicago.

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