What not to say to a patch clamper

1. “It’s character building”

Often said when you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall for weeks, trying to get your experiment to work.

I agree, it is character building when you’re just starting out – I think it’s really important to instil the notion that patch clamp is incredibly difficult and frustrating. But when you’ve been doing it for at least a year with virtually no data to show for all those weeks and months of “character building”, then the person saying this is in danger of getting stabbed in the eyes with patch electrodes.


Death by patch electrodes

Death by patch electrodes


2. “I can see lots of cells”

The person saying this is either looking over your shoulder at a screen, or looking down a microscope at a cover-slip.

Yes, they think  they can see lots of cells. They assume that all those perfectly round, transparent blobs are cells that can be patched. But the truth is is that all those “cells” are in fact dead. Some are so dead, that all that’s left are ghosts of cells. When hunting around for that one reasonable-looking cell; a cell that can temporarily alleviate your misery, the last thing you need is someone with an untrained eye making completely pointless, unhelpful and incorrect observations.


3. “Are those miniature currents?”

Similar to the above, where someone (usually a PI) looks over your shoulder at a computer screen showing the latest trace of your cell’s electrical activity.

Once again, they think they can see miniature currents and yes, those currents are quite tiny. What they fail to notice, however, are the signs of a crappy cell, let alone the fact that the cell isn’t being perfused with any drugs (in order to isolate the miniature currents).

The same can be said for the relatively huge spontaneous currents. No, they are not inhibitory postsynaptic currents because I haven’t actually isolated them yet. I’m waiting for you to go away so that I can dash around the lab and prepare my solution before this cell dies.


4. “When will you have this dataset complete?”

How long is a piece of string? In an ideal world I can get 6 replicates (the minimum amount I need to run a statistical test) in a couple of weeks. The reality? A couple of months.


5. “Can you just do a quick ‘look-see’ experiment for Dr So-and-so?”

Seriously? You think that I can just do a ‘quick’ patch clamp experiment? For someone else? In a different part of the brain? With a completely different cell type and shape? On top of all the other experiments I have to do?

How about….. no.

Patch clamp