Electrophysiology Equipment that Every Lab Needs

Electrophysiology is a powerful analytical testing technology that has been incredibly prolific and valuable to many fields of research. Whether a lab is focused on whole-cell, patch clamp, planar lipid bilayers, or the host of other techniques associated with this technology, there are a number of required electrophysiology basic equipment items.

An electrophysiology setup has four main requirements: (1) environment: the means of keeping the preparation healthy; (2) optics: the means of visualizing the preparation; (3) mechanics: the means of stably positioning the microelectrode; and (4) electronics: the means of amplifying and recording the signal. Here is a list of equipment grouped by specific application.

Whole-cell Electrophysiology

Is broken into Intracellular and Extracellular Recording, depending on whether the electrode tip is inserted into the cell or simply attached to a cell, respectively. In intracellular recording, a fine pipette tip is inserted through the cell membrane in order to record ion conductance (and electrical activity) across the whole-cell membrane. Although powerful, the possibility exists that solutes, ions, and other material may leak past the entry point thereby compromising experiments.

In extracellular recording, the fine pipette tip is attached to the outer envelope of the cell membrane. Gentle suction removes the “patch” over the orifice of the pipette tip, thereby allowing measurement of whole-cell conductance activity without the tip breaching and traversing the cell membrane.

Patch Clamp Electrophysiology

Recording simply involves measurement of conductance across the “patch” of membrane created by the extracellular recording technique described above – the patch is not removed from the cell. There are modifications of this technique such as excise patch clamp recording as well.

Planar Lipid Bilayers

Are a totally different animal. A thin film of lipid is formed (e.g. painted) over a small (5-500 µm) orifice in an inert block of material (e.g. delrin). A bilayer membrane forms through physical forces, and two now separate reservoirs serve as electrode baths for measuring conductance across the membrane. (Image: Warner Instruments)

Environment

Specific tools and reagents are associated and required for specific applications -- for instance growth of ex vivo cultures, harvesting of model cells (e.g. frog oocytes), or dissociation of cells derived from native tissue

Cell culture products include: culture plates, culture flasks, cell media, growth factors, antibiotics, pipettes, autopipettors, conical tubes, ducted or ductless fume hoods, cell culture incubators

Cell harvesting and preparation products include: culture plates, cell spreaders, shakers, tabletop centrifuges, pipettes and pipettors, conditioning media, small animal surgical tools, tweezers

Optics

Depending on the type of cells harvested, specific types of imaging equipment may be required.

Cell counting and imaging devices include: dissecting microscopes, optical brightfield microscopes, inverted live cell imaging fluorescence microscopes, CCD microscope cameras, microscope imaging monitors, micromanipulators, imaging stages, LED light sources, microscope accessories

Cell imaging microscopes include: confocal microscopes, high-content confocal microscopes, electron microscopes, fixing stages, cryostats, microtomes, microscope accessories

Mechanics

Essentials for electrophysiological recording include: Faraday cages for electronic isolation, air tables for vibrational isolation, platinum electrodes, glass pipette materials, glass pipette oven and pullers, electrode mounting hardware, pipette mounting hardware, light sources, optical viewing magnification devices, syringe pumps, aspiration tubing, vacuum pumps, vacuum flasks, buffers and reagents, water purification devices.

Electronics

Depending on the mode of electrical conductance (or voltage) measurement, the following products will be required: headstage amplifiers, amplifiers, electrical filters, chart recorders, PC controllers and recorders, video monitors.

Whether performing whole-cell, patch clamp, or planar lipid bilayer recording of multiple or single channel activity, there are basic equipment requirements for setting up and running the lab. Beyond this, specific equipment and reagents will be dictated not only by the measurement method, but by the nature and source of the cells and/or membranes. For these reasons, a thorough evaluation of lab inventory and the identification of source(s) for equipment and materials will provide the best chances for electrophysiological success.

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