Brain slices

Brain slices have played a pivotal role in developing theories on the operation of neuronal networks. Slices about 0.4 mm thick are cut from the brains of deeply anaesthetised or recently killed experimental animals, or sometimes from humans undergoing neurosurgery. Brain slices can survive many hours in vitro in an artificial cerebrospinal fluid, usually equilibrated with 95 per cent oxygen and 5 per cent carbon dioxide (with bicarbonate providing a pH buffer). If the slices are prepared under sterile conditions, they can survive for weeks as 'organotypic slice cultures'. In both cases the visualization of the anatomy of the living slice helps locate electrodes, the mechanical stability greatly simplifies recordings from inside neurones, and the lack of a blood-brain barrier facilitates drug applications and changes in ion concentrations. Brain slices have proved immensely popular and successful, but it is important to remember that they are only one tool in the armoury needed to study brain function, and that ultimately results from them must be put in the context of the whole organism.

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