A close look at brain dynamics: Cells and vessels seen by in vivo two-photon microscopy

Stefano Fumagalli, Fabrizio Ortolano, Maria Grazia De Simoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cerebral vasculature has a unique role in providing a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to ensure normal brain functions. Blood vessels that feed the brain are far from being simply channels for passive transportation of fluids. They form complex structures made up of different cell types. These structures regulate blood supply, local concentrations of O2 and CO2, transport of small molecules, trafficking of plasma cells and fine cerebral functions in normal and diseased brains. Until few years ago, analysis of these functions has been typically based on post mortem techniques, whose interpretation is limited by the need for tissue processing at specific times. For a reliable and effective picture of the dynamic processes in the central nervous system, real-time information in vivo is required. There are now few in vivo systems, among which two-photon microscopy (2-PM) is a truly innovative tool for studying the brain. 2-PM has been used to dissect specific aspects of vascular and immune cell dynamics in the context of neurological diseases, providing exciting results that could not have been obtained with conventional methods. This review summarizes the latest findings on vascular and immune system action in the brain, with particular focus on the dynamic responses after ischemic brain injury. 2-PM has helped define the hierarchical architecture of the brain vasculature, the dynamic interaction between the vasculature and immune cells recruited to lesion sites, the effects of blood flow on neuronal and microglial activity and the ability of cells of the neurovascular unit to regulate blood flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-54
Number of pages19
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Acute brain injury
  • Central nervous system
  • Live imaging
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Neuroscience
  • Two-photon microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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