The ability to measure changes in neuronal activity in a quantifiable and precise manner is of fundamental importance to understand neuron development and function. Repeated monitoring of neuronal activity of the same population of neurons over several days is challenging and, typically, low-throughput. Here, we describe a new biochemical reporter assay that allows for repeated measurements of neuronal activity in a cell type-specific manner. We coupled activity-dependent elements from the Arc/Arg3.1 gene with a secreted reporter, Gaussia luciferase, to quantify neuronal activity without sacrificing the neurons. The reporter predominantly senses calcium and NMDA receptor-dependent activity. By repeatedly measuring the accumulation of the reporter in cell media, we can profile the developmental dynamics of neuronal activity in cultured neurons from male and female mice. The assay also allows for longitudinal analysis of pharmacological treatments, thus distinguishing acute from delayed responses. Moreover, conditional expression of the reporter allows for monitoring cell type-specific changes. This simple, quantitative, cost-effective, automatable, and cell type-specific activity reporter is a valuable tool to study the development of neuronal activity in normal and disease-model conditions, and to identify small molecules or protein factors that selectively modulate the activity of a specific population of neurons.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience