Patch clamping, a method that allows scientists to study the electrical activity of single cells, is one of the oldest tools in the neuroscience toolbox. Although the technique was originally developed around the late 1970s to study neurons in a dish, over the last few decades, scientists have adapted it to examine the electrophysiology of the brains of live animals. Then, they managed to automate the process—letting a robot explore the brain and attach to a neuron to record.
In a pair of papers published today (August 30) in Neuron, two groups of scientists advanced automated patch clamping even further, independently developing in vivo robotic systems that use two-photon microscopy to home in on specific cells, rather than just the easiest to find.
“This whole-cell patch method is really the gold standard for looking at synaptic and other events that make a neuron compute,” says Ed Boyden, a bioengineer at MIT. “We’re trying to take this art form and turn it into something that’s fully automated.”