Synaptic assays are used to measure neuronal activity in disease and drug research for neurodevelopmental disorders. Existing assays rely on visualization or electrophysiological analyses, but they provide variable results because they fail to track changes in the same population of neurons over time. These methods are also labor intensive, expensive, and unsuitable for large-scale drug screens.

The live-cell assay facilitates quantitative measurement of neuronal activity. The assay involves infecting cultured neurons with an activity-dependent promoter, and then repeatedly measuring the accumulation of photon-yielding enzymatic activity in the medium. This method provides longitudinal tracking of neuronal activity, while identifying small molecules that regulate synapse development and function. The technology will be used as a drug screen in normal synapse development to narrow the field of drug candidates that affect neuronal activation.