Through the looking glass: A review of cranial window technology for optical access to the brain

Samuel W. Cramer, Russell E. Carter, Justin D. Aronson, Suhasa B. Kodandaramaiah, Timothy J. Ebner, Clark C. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Deciphering neurologic function is a daunting task, requiring understanding the neuronal networks and emergent properties that arise from the interactions among single neurons. Mechanistic insights into neuronal networks require tools that simultaneously assess both single neuron activity and the consequent mesoscale output. The development of cranial window technologies, in which the skull is thinned or replaced with a synthetic optical interface, has enabled monitoring neuronal activity from subcellular to mesoscale resolution in awake, behaving animals when coupled with advanced microscopy techniques. Here we review recent achievements in cranial window technologies, appraise the relative merits of each design and discuss the future research in cranial window design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109100
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
StatePublished - Apr 15 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Alexander Cramer at the University of Minnesota Imaging Center for assistance in generating graphics. Research reported in this publication was supported by the University of Minnesota MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and Innovation Economy) initiative. We also acknowledge the partial support of 1R01NS111028-01 (SBK and TJE), 1P30-DA048742-01 (SBK and TJE), 1R42NS110165-01A1 (SBK), 1RF1NS113287-01 (SBK) and R61/R33 NS115089-01 (TJE), Minnesota Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Grant Program (TJE, SBK, CWC, and CCC).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • Cranial window
  • Imaging window
  • In vivo imaging
  • Neuromodulation
  • Neurophysiology
  • Optical imaging


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