Long-term in vivo imaging of normal and pathological mouse spinal cord with subcellular resolution using implanted glass windows.
Repeated in vivo two-photon imaging of adult mammalian spinal cords, with subcellular resolution, would be crucial for understanding cellular mechanisms under normal and pathological conditions. Current methods are limited because they require surgery for each imaging session. Here we report a simple glass window methodology avoiding repeated surgical procedures and subsequent inflammation. We applied this strategy to follow axon integrity and the inflammatory response over months by multicolour imaging of adult transgenic mice. We found that glass windows have no significant effect on axon number or structure, cause a transient inflammatory response, and dramatically increase the throughput of in vivo spinal imaging. Moreover, we used this technique to track retraction/degeneration and regeneration of cut axons after a ‘pin-prick' spinal cord injury with high temporal fidelity. We showed that regenerating axons can cross an injury site within 4 days and that their terminals undergo dramatic morphological changes for weeks after injury. Overall the technique can potentially be adapted to evaluate cellular functions and therapeutic strategies in the normal and diseased spinal cord.