Fluorescence imaging of presynaptic uptake and release of styryl dyes such as FM1-43 has provided valuable insights into synaptic function. However, in studies of CNS neurons, the utility of these dyes has been severely limited by nonsynaptic background fluorescence. This has thwarted the use of FM dyes in systems more intact than dissociated neuronal cultures. Here, we describe an approach to selectively reduce undesired fluorescence through quenching of the surface-bound FM1-43 signal. The introduction of sulforhodamine, a fluorophore that is not taken up by synaptic vesicles, selectively reduced the nonsynaptic fluorescence in FM1-43-labeled hippocampal cultures. When applied to rat hippocampal slices, this procedure allowed us to observe activity-dependent staining and destaining of functional synapses. Extending the usefulness of styryl dyes to slice preparations may help make functional synaptic networks amenable to optical measurements.
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