SynapShot Technique Enables Real-Time Synapse Observation

Summary: A pioneering research team developed SynapShot, the first technique enabling real-time observation of synapse formation and changes. This groundbreaking method involves conjugating dimerization-dependent fluorescent proteins to synapses, allowing the team to track live synapse dynamics.

The technique has successfully provided insights into synapse formation, extinction, and alterations, and was tested in various live situations on mice, revealing rapid and dynamic changes in synapses. This advancement is poised to revolutionize neurological research and deepen our understanding of brain functions.

Key Facts:

  1. SynapShot allows real-time tracking and observation of synapse dynamics in live cells.
  2. The technique was tested in different live situations in mice, revealing quick and dynamic synapse changes.
  3. This method marks a significant advancement in neurological research, providing new insights into brain functions like cognition, emotion, and memory.

Source: KAIST

The human brain contains approximately 86 billion neurons and 600 trillion synapses that exchange signals between the neurons to help us control the various functions of the brain including cognition, emotion, and memory.

Interestingly, the number of synapses decrease with age or as a result of diseases like Alzheimer’s, and research on synapses thus attracts a lot of attention. However, limitations have existed in observing the dynamics of synapse structures in real time.

This shows neurons.
The observations revealed that each synapse could change fairly quickly and dynamically. Credit: Neuroscience News

On January 9, a joint research team led by Professor Won Do Heo from the KAIST Department of Biological Sciences, Professor Hyung-Bae Kwon from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Professor Sangkyu Lee from the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) revealed that they have developed the world’s first technique to allow a real-time observation of synapse formation, extinction, and alterations.

Professor Heo’s team conjugated dimerization-dependent fluorescent proteins (ddFP) to synapses in order to observe the process in which synapses create connections between neurons in real time. The team named this technique SynapShot, by combining the words ‘synapse’ and snapshot’, and successfully tracked and observed the live formation and extinction processes of synapses as well as their dynamic changes.

Through a joint research project, the teams led by Professor Heo and Professor Sangkyu Lee at IBS together designed a SynapShot with green and red fluorescence, and were able to easily distinguish the synapse connecting two different neurons. Additionally, by combining an optogenetic technique that can control the function of a molecule using light, the team was able to observe the changes in the synapses while simultaneously inducing certain functions of the neurons using light.

Through more joint research with the team led by Professor Hyung-Bae Kwon at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Professor Heo’s team induced several situations on live mice, including visual discrimination training, exercise, and anaesthesia, and used SynapShot to observe the changes in the synapses during each situation in real time. The observations revealed that each synapse could change fairly quickly and dynamically. This was the first-ever case in which the changes in synapses were observed in a live mammal.

Professor Heo said, “Our group developed SynapShot through a collaboration with domestic and international research teams, and have opened up the possibility for first-hand live observations of the quick and dynamic changes of synapses, which was previously difficult to do. We expect this technique to revolutionize research methodology in the neurological field, and play an important role in brightening the future of brain science.”

This research, conducted by co-first authors Seungkyu Son (Ph.D. candidate), Jinsu Lee (Ph.D. candidate) and Dr. Kanghoon Jung from Johns Hopkins, was published in the online edition of Nature Methods on January 8 under the title “Real-time visualization of structural dynamics of synapses in live cells in vivo”, and will be printed in the February volume.

Funding: This research was supported by Mid-Sized Research Funds and the Singularity Project from KAIST,  and by IBS.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Yoonju Hong
Source: KAIST
Contact: Yoonju Hong – KAIST
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Real-time visualization of structural dynamics of synapses in live cells in vivo” by Won Do Heo et al. Nature Methods


Real-time visualization of structural dynamics of synapses in live cells in vivo

The structural plasticity of synapses is crucial for regulating brain functions. However, currently available methods for studying synapse organization based on split fluorescent proteins (FPs) have been limited in assessing synaptic dynamics in vivo due to the irreversible binding of split FPs.

Here, we develop ‘SynapShot’, a method for visualizing the structural dynamics of intact synapses by combining dimerization-dependent FPs (ddFPs) with engineered synaptic adhesion molecules. SynapShot allows real-time monitoring of reversible and bidirectional changes of synaptic contacts under physiological stimulation.

The application of green and red ddFPs in SynapShot enables simultaneous visualization of two distinct populations of synapses. Notably, the red-shifted SynapShot is highly compatible with blue light-based optogenetic techniques, allowing for visualization of synaptic dynamics while precisely controlling specific signaling pathways.

Furthermore, we demonstrate that SynapShot enables real-time monitoring of structural changes in synaptic contacts in the mouse brain during both primitive and higher-order behaviors.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.