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Developmental Biology

Live-Cell Imaging of Drosophila melanogaster Third Instar Larval Brains

Published: June 23rd, 2023



1Department of Biology, University of Washington

Here, we discuss a workflow to prepare, dissect, mount, and image live explant brains from Drosophila melanogaster third instar larvae to observe the cellular and subcellular dynamics under physiological conditions.

Drosophila neural stem cells (neuroblasts, NBs hereafter) undergo asymmetric divisions, regenerating the self-renewing neuroblast, while also forming a differentiating ganglion mother cell (GMC), which will undergo one additional division to give rise to two neurons or glia. Studies in NBs have uncovered the molecular mechanisms underlying cell polarity, spindle orientation, neural stem cell self-renewal, and differentiation. These asymmetric cell divisions are readily observable via live-cell imaging, making larval NBs ideally suited for investigating the spatiotemporal dynamics of asymmetric cell division in living tissue. When properly dissected and imaged in nutrient-supplemented medium, NBs in explant brains robustly divide for 12-20 h. Previously described methods are technically difficult and may be challenging to those new to the field. Here, a protocol is described for the preparation, dissection, mounting, and imaging of live third-instar larval brain explants using fat body supplements. Potential problems are also discussed, and examples are provided for how this technique can be used.

Asymmetric cell division (ACD) is the process by which subcellular components such as RNA, proteins, and organelles are partitioned unequally between daughter cells1,2. This process is commonly seen in stem cells, which undergo ACD to give rise to daughter cells with different developmental fates. Drosophila NBs divide asymmetrically to produce one NB, which retains its stemness, and one ganglion mother cell (GMC). The GMC undergoes further divisions to produce differentiating neurons or glia3. Asymmetrically dividing NBs are abundant in the developing brains of third-instar la....

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NOTE: Figure 1 shows the materials required to perform this study.

1. Considerations and preparations for the experiment

  1. Prevent the larvae from overcrowding.
    NOTE: The quality of explant larval brains is directly related to the health and quality of the larvae prior to dissection. Larvae that are malnourished from overcrowding will generally yield lower-quality brains30.
    1. Ensure that no more t.......

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Dissection and imaging of central brain lobe NBs expressing Pins::EGFP and Cherry::Jupiter
To showcase this protocol, larvae expressing UAS-driven Cherry::Jupiter13 and endogenously tagged Pins::EGFP16 (w; worGal4, UAS-cherry::jupiter/CyO; Pins::EGFP/TM6B, Tb) were imaged for 4 h using the described protocol using multi-well imaging slides (Figure 5C,D). Additional data were taken from larvae expressing U.......

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This protocol outlines one approach for the imaging of live explant brains from Drosophila melanogaster larvae. The protocol described here allows for explant brains to be observed for 12-20 h under the right experimental conditions. Special consideration must be given to the preparation of samples and the design of the desired experiments. As mentioned above, one of the most critical factors that determines the quality of the dissected tissue is the health of the larvae. To achieve the highest quality possible,.......

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This research is supported by R35GM148160 (C. C.) and a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Grant T32 GM007270 (R. C. S)


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NameCompanyCatalog NumberComments
0.22 µm polyethersulfone (PES) MembraneGenesee25-231Vacuum-driven filters
AgarGenesee20-248granulated agar
Analytical ComputerDellNAIntel Xeon Gold 5222 CPU with two 3.80 GHz processors running Windows 10 on a 64-bit operating system
Bovine Growth SerumHyCloneSH30541.02
Chambered Imaging SlidesIbidi80826
Confocal MicroscopeNikonNA
Custom-machined metal slideNANASee Cabernard and Doe 2013 (Ref. 34) for specifications
Dissection DishesFisher Scientific50243433-well porcelain micro spot plate
Dissection ForcepsWorld Precision InstrumentsDumont #5
Dissection MicroscopeLeicaNA
Dissection ScissorsFine Science Tools (FST)15003-08
Embryo collection cageGenesee59-100
Flypad with access to CO2 to anesthetize adult fliesGenesee59-172
Gas-permeable membraneYSI98095Gas-permeable membrane
Glass Cover SlidesElectron Microscopy Sciences72204-03# 1.5; 22 mm x 40 mm glass coverslips
ImarisOxford InstrumentsNAAlternatives: Fiji, Volocity, Aivia
Imaris File ConverterOxford InstrumentsNA
Instant YeastSaf-InstantNA
Petri dishGreiner Bio-One62816160 mm x 15 mm Petri dish
Petroleum JellyVaselineNA
Schneider's Insect Medium with L-glutamine and sodium bicarbonate liquidMillipore SigmaS0146
SlideBook acquisition software3iNA
Vacuum-Driven Filtration Unit with a 0.22 µµm PES membrane filterGenesee Scientific, GenClone25-231

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