In the mammalian brain, many thousands of single-neuron recording studies have been performed but less than 10 single-cell stimulation studies. This paucity of single-cell stimulation data reflects a lack of easily applicable single-cell stimulation techniques. We provide a detailed description of the procedures involved in nanostimulation, a single-cell stimulation method derived from the juxtacellular labeling technique. Nanostimulation is easy to apply and can be directed to a wide variety of identifiable neurons in anesthetized and awake animals. We describe the recording approach and the parameters of the electric configuration underlying nanostimulation. We use glass pipettes with a DC resistance of 4-7 MΩ. Obtaining the juxtacellular configuration requires a close contact between pipette tip and neuron and is associated with a several-fold increase in resistance to values ≥20 MΩ. The recorded action potential (AP) amplitude grows to ≥2 mV, and neurons can be activated with currents in the nanoampere range-hence the term nanostimulation. While exact AP timing has not been achieved, AP frequency and AP number can be parametrically controlled. We demonstrate that nanostimulation can also be used to selectively inhibit sensory responses in identifiable neurons. Nanostimulation is biophysically similar to electroporation, and based on this assumption, we argue that nanostimulation operates on membranes in the micrometer area directly below the pipette tip, where membrane pores are induced by high transmembrane voltage. There is strong evidence to suggest that nanostimulation selectively activates single neurons and that the evoked effects are cell-specific. Nanostimulation therefore holds great potential for elucidating how single neurons contribute to behavior.

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Houweling, A.R., Doron, G., Voigt, B.C., Herfst, L.J., & Brecht, M.. (2010). Nanostimulation: Manipulation of single neuron activity by juxtacellular current injection. Journal of Neurophysiology, 103(3), 1696–1704. doi:10.1152/jn.00421.2009