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Pauline Campos, Jamie J Walker and Patrice Mollard

In most species, survival relies on the hypothalamic control of endocrine axes that regulate critical functions such as reproduction, growth, and metabolism. For decades, the complexity and inaccessibility of the hypothalamic–pituitary axis has prevented researchers from elucidating the relationship between the activity of endocrine hypothalamic neurons and pituitary hormone secretion. Indeed, the study of central control of endocrine function has been largely dominated by ‘traditional’ techniques that consist of studying in vitro or ex vivo isolated cell types without taking into account the complexity of regulatory mechanisms at the level of the brain, pituitary and periphery. Nowadays, by exploiting modern neuronal transfection and imaging techniques, it is possible to study hypothalamic neuron activity in situ, in real time, and in conscious animals. Deep-brain imaging of calcium activity can be performed through gradient-index lenses that are chronically implanted and offer a ‘window into the brain’ to image multiple neurons at single-cell resolution. With this review, we aim to highlight deep-brain imaging techniques that enable the study of neuroendocrine neurons in awake animals whilst maintaining the integrity of regulatory loops between the brain, pituitary and peripheral glands. Furthermore, to assist researchers in setting up these techniques, we discuss the equipment required and include a practical step-by-step guide to performing these deep-brain imaging studies.