1Core Facility Microscopy, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, 2Cellular Microbiology, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology
Brinkmann, V., Laube, B., Abu Abed, U., Goosmann, C., Zychlinsky, A. Neutrophil Extracellular Traps: How to Generate and Visualize Them. J. Vis. Exp. (36), e1724, doi:10.3791/1724 (2010).
Neutrophil granulocytes are the most abundant group of leukocytes in the peripheral blood. As professional phagocytes, they engulf bacteria and kill them intracellularly when their antimicrobial granules fuse with the phagosome. We found that neutrophils have an additional way of killing microorganisms: upon activation, they release granule proteins and chromatin that together form extracellular fibers that bind pathogens. These novel structures, or Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs), degrade virulence factors and kill bacteria1, fungi2 and parasites3. The structural backbone of NETs is DNA, and they are quickly degraded in the presence of DNases. Thus, bacteria expressing DNases are more virulent4. Using correlative microscopy combining TEM, SEM, immunofluorescence and live cell imaging techniques, we could show that upon stimulation, the nuclei of neutrophils lose their shape and the eu- and heterochromatin homogenize. Later, the nuclear envelope and the granule membranes disintegrate allowing the mixing of NET components. Finally, the NETs are released as the cell membrane breaks. This cell death program (NETosis) is distinct from apoptosis and necrosis and depends on the generation of Reactive Oxygen Species by NADPH oxidase5.
Neutrophil extracellular traps are abundant at sites of acute inflammation. NETs appear to be a form of innate immune response that bind microorganisms, prevent them from spreading, and ensure a high local concentration of antimicrobial agents to degrade virulence factors and kill pathogens thus allowing neutrophils to fulfill their antimicrobial function even beyond their life span. There is increasing evidence, however, that NETs are also involved in diseases that range from auto-immune syndromes to infertility6.
We describe methods to isolate Neutrophil Granulocytes from peripheral human blood7 and stimulate them to form NETs. Also we include protocols to visualize the NETs in light and electron microscopy.
1. PMN Isolation from human blood
Use about 24 ml human blood with EDTA or Heparin (10 U/ml) as anticoagulant.
2. Activating PMNs
PMA serves as a positive control and is until now the most potent agent to induce NET formation. Alternatively, other stimuli or co-cultivation with pathogens can be used for NET induction.
The respective status of NET formation can be checked while the time course is proceeding, if additional parallel samples are prepared. If a non-permeant DNA dye like Sytox Green (Invitrogen) is added to the non-fixed cells, only extracellular DNA will be detected. Since formation of new NETs is somehow impaired in the presence of Sytox, for each time point one parallel sample has to be used.
3. NET detection by immunolabeling
NETs are very fragile even after fixation and have to be manipulated with great care, otherwise the majority will get lost during the preparation.
4. Preparing NETs for Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)
5. Representative Results:
The isolation method usually yields unstimulated viable neutrophils with a purity greater than 95%. When fixed at different time points after stimulation, the immunostaining protocol shows the sequence of morphological changes during NETosis cell flattening, loss of nuclear lobules, loss of granule and nucleus integrity which leads to an increasing overlap of nuclear (i.e. histone) and granular (i.e. Neutrophil Elastase) staining. This protocol can serve as a starting point to analyze the specific interactions of pathogens with neutrophils. This interaction can be dissected in greater detail using the preparation protocol for Scanning Electron Microscopy.
Sample of stimulated neutrophils stained for NET components (blue = DNA, red = histone, green = Neutrophil Elastase). The images show, besides the NET localization, the nuclear localization of DNA and histones and the granular pattern for Neutrophil Elastase.
SEM PMA stimulation
Scanning electron micrograph showing non stimulated and PMA-stimulated neutrophils. After stimulation, the neutrophils flatten out and produce NETs.
SEM NETs and Shigella
Higher resolution SEM image of Shigella bacteria trapped in NETs.
The provided protocol will allow the isolation of non stimulated neutrophils at considerable purity, the induction of NET formation and the analysis of morphological changes during NETosis. When handling the specimens with care, i.e. avoiding harsh washing conditions which will result in the loss of most of the loosely attached NETs, the amount of NET formation under different stimulation conditions (duration, stimulus) can be compared. In this respect, the provided protocols can serve as a starting point to establish methods to analyze more sophisticated scenarios: neutrophil/pathogen interactions, sequence of stimuli, interplay with other immune cells.