A fundamental characteristic of the central nervous system is its enormous cellular heterogeneity. Understanding the genetic underpinnings of this diversity demands that we know how gene expression is coordinated in individual neurons and how this pattern of gene expression is translated into neuronal function. One strategy to achieve this goal combines whole cell electrophysiology and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Using the patch pipette to both harvest mRNA from an individual neuron and measure neuronal electrical activity, this approach has successfully demonstrated how genes determine function. This article outlines the strengths and weaknesses of this strategy and discusses new methods on the horizon.
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