Imaging and optogenetic modulation of vascular mural cells in the live brain

Lei Tong, Robert A Hill, Eyiyemisi C Damisah, Katie N Murray, Peng Yuan, Angelique Bordey, Jaime Grutzendler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mural cells (smooth muscle cells and pericytes) are integral components of brain blood vessels that play important roles in vascular formation, blood-brain barrier maintenance, and regulation of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF). These cells are implicated in conditions ranging from developmental vascular disorders to age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Here we present complementary tools for cell labeling with transgenic mice and organic dyes that allow high-resolution intravital imaging of the different mural cell subtypes. We also provide detailed methodologies for imaging of spontaneous and neural activity-evoked calcium transients in mural cells. In addition, we describe strategies for single- and two-photon optogenetics that allow manipulation of the activity of individual and small clusters of mural cells. Together with measurements of diameter and flow in individual brain microvessels, calcium imaging and optogenetics allow the investigation of pericyte and smooth muscle cell physiology and their role in regulating rCBF. We also demonstrate the utility of these tools to investigate mural cells in the context of Alzheimer's disease and cerebral ischemia mouse models. Thus, these methods can be used to reveal the functional and structural heterogeneity of mural cells in vivo, and allow detailed cellular studies of the normal function and pathophysiology of mural cells in a variety of disease models. The implementation of this protocol can take from several hours to days depending on the intended applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-496
Number of pages25
JournalNature protocols
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2021


  • Animals
  • Blood Circulation
  • Brain/blood supply
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle/cytology
  • Optical Imaging/methods
  • Optogenetics/methods
  • Pericytes/cytology


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