Adaptive prospective optical gating enables day-long 3D time-lapse imaging of the beating embryonic zebrafish heart


Three-dimensional fluorescence time-lapse imaging of structural, cellular and subcellular processes in the beating heart is an increasingly achievable goal using the latest imaging and computational techniques. However, previous approaches have had significant limitations. Temporarily arresting the heart using drugs disrupts the hearttextquoterights physiological state, and the use of ultra-high frame-rates for fluorescence image acquisition causes phototoxic cell damage. Real-time triggered imaging, synchronized to a specific phase in the cardiac-cycle, can computationally “freeze” the heart to acquire the minimal number of fluorescence images required for 3D time-lapse imaging. However, until now no solution has been able to maintain phase-lock to the same point in the cardiac cycle for more than about one hour. Our new hybrid optical gating system maintains phase-lock for up to 24 h, acquiring synchronized 3D+time video stacks of the unperturbed heart in vivo. This approach has enabled us to observe detailed developmental, structural, cellular and subcellular processes, including live cell division and cell fate tracking, in the embryonic zebrafish heart using transgenic fish lines expressing cell-specific fluorophores. We show that our approach not only provides high spatial and temporal resolution 3D-imaging, but also avoids phototoxic injury, where alternative approaches induce measurable harm. This provides superb cellular and subcellular imaging of the heart while it is beating in its normal physiological state, and opens up new and exciting opportunities for further study in the heart and other moving cellular and subcellular structures in vivo.

Nature Communications
Chas Nelson
Chas Nelson
LKAS Research Fellow in Data Science

Interdisciplinary scientist with a background in bioimaging and informatics.