• Reviewing Editor
    Melike Lakadamyali
    University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    John Huguenard
    Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Glaser et al present ExA-SPIM, a light-sheet microscope platform with large volumetric coverage (Field of view 85mm^2, working distance 35mm), designed to image expanded mouse brains in their entirety. The authors also present an expansion method optimized for whole mouse brains and an acquisition software suite. The microscope is employed in imaging an expanded mouse brain, the macaque motor cortex, and human brain slices of white matter.

This is impressive work and represents a leap over existing light-sheet microscopes. As an example, it offers a fivefold higher resolution than mesoSPIM (https://mesospim.org/), a popular platform for imaging large cleared samples. Thus while this work is rooted in optical engineering, it manifests a huge step forward and has the potential to become an important tool in the neurosciences.

-ExA-SPIM features an exceptional combination of field of view, working distance, resolution, and throughput.

-An expanded mouse brain can be acquired with only 15 tiles, lowering the burden on computational stitching. That the brain does not need to be mechanically sectioned is also seen as an important capability.

-The image data is compelling, and tracing of neurons has been performed. This demonstrates the potential of the microscope platform.

-There is a general question about the scaling laws of lenses, and expansion microscopy, which in my opinion remained unanswered: In the context of whole brain imaging, a larger expansion factor requires a microscope system with larger volumetric coverage, which in turn will have lower resolution (Figure 1B). So what is optimal? Could one alternatively image a cleared (non-expanded) brain with a high-resolution ASLM system (Chakraborty, Tonmoy, Nature Methods 2019, potentially upgraded with custom objectives) and get a similar effective resolution as the authors get with expansion? This is not meant to diminish the achievement, but it was unclear if the gains in resolution from the expansion factor are traded off by the scaling laws of current optical systems.

-It was unclear if 300 nm lateral and 800 nm axial resolution is enough for many questions in neuroscience. Segmenting spines, distinguishing pre- and postsynaptic densities, or tracing densely labeled neurons might be challenging. A discussion about the necessary resolution levels in neuroscience would be appreciated.

-Would it be possible to characterize the aberrations that might be still present after whole brain expansion? One approach could be to image small fluorescent nanospheres behind the expanded brain and recover the pupil function via phase retrieval. But even full width half maximum (FWHM) measurements of the nanospheres' images would give some idea of the magnitude of the aberrations.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

In this manuscript, Glaser et al. describe a new selective plane illumination microscope designed to image a large field of view that is optimized for expanded and cleared tissue samples. For the most part, the microscope design follows a standard formula that is common among many systems (e.g. Keller PJ et al Science 2008, Pitrone PG et al. Nature Methods 2013, Dean KM et al. Biophys J 2015, and Voigt FF et al. Nature Methods 2019). The primary conceptual and technical novelty is to use a detection objective from the metrology industry that has a large field of view and a large area camera. The authors characterize the system resolution, field curvature, and chromatic focal shift by measuring fluorescent beads in a hydrogel and then show example images of expanded samples from mouse, macaque, and human brain tissue.

I commend the authors for making all of the documentation, models, and acquisition software openly accessible and believe that this will help assist others who would like to replicate the instrument. I anticipate that the protocols for imaging large expanded tissues (such as an entire mouse brain) will also be useful to the community.

The characterization of the instrument needs to be improved to validate the claims. If the manuscript claims that the instrument allows for robust automated neuronal tracing, then this should be included in the data.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation