Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
Post-embedding Immunogold Labeling of Synaptic Proteins in Hippocampal Slice Cultures
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin , Medical College of Wisconsin .
Immunoelectron microscopy is a powerful tool to study biological molecules at the subcellular level. Antibodies coupled to electron-dense markers such as colloidal gold can reveal the localization and distribution of specific antigens in various tissues1
. The two most widely used techniques are pre-embedding and post-embedding techniques. In pre-embedding immunogold-electron microscopy (EM) techniques, the tissue must be permeabilized to allow antibody penetration before it is embedded. These techniques are ideal for preserving structures but poor penetration of the antibody (often only the first few micrometers) is a considerable drawback2
. The post-embedding labeling methods can avoid this problem because labeling takes place on sections of fixed tissues where antigens are more easily accessible. Over the years, a number of modifications have improved the post-embedding methods to enhance immunoreactivity and to preserve ultrastructure3-5
Tissue fixation is a crucial part of EM studies. Fixatives chemically crosslink the macromolecules to lock the tissue structures in place. The choice of fixative affects not only structural preservation but also antigenicity and contrast. Osmium tetroxide (OsO4
), formaldehyde, and glutaraldehyde have been the standard fixatives for decades, including for central nervous system (CNS) tissues that are especially prone to structural damage during chemical and physical processing. Unfortunately, OsO4
is highly reactive and has been shown to mask antigens6
, resulting in poor and insufficient labeling. Alternative approaches to avoid chemical fixation include freezing the tissues. But these techniques are difficult to perform and require expensive instrumentation. To address some of these problems and to improve CNS tissue labeling, Phend et al
. replaced OsO4
with uranyl acetate (UA) and tannic acid (TA), and successfully introduced additional modifications to improve the sensitivity of antigen detection and structural preservation in brain and spinal cord tissues7
. We have adopted this osmium-free post-embedding method to rat brain tissue and optimized the immunogold labeling technique to detect and study synaptic proteins.
We present here a method to determine the ultrastructural localization of synaptic proteins in rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. We use organotypic hippocampal cultured slices. These slices maintain the trisynaptic circuitry of the hippocampus, and thus are especially useful for studying synaptic plasticity, a mechanism widely thought to underlie learning and memory. Organotypic hippocampal slices from postnatal day 5 and 6 mouse/rat pups can be prepared as described previously8
, and are especially useful to acutely knockdown or overexpress exogenous proteins. We have previously used this protocol to characterize neurogranin (Ng), a neuron-specific protein with a critical role in regulating synaptic function8,9
. We have also used it to characterize the ultrastructural localization of calmodulin (CaM) and Ca2+
/CaM-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII)10
. As illustrated in the results, this protocol allows good ultrastructural preservation of dendritic spines and efficient labeling of Ng to help characterize its distribution in the spine8
. Furthermore, the procedure described here can have wide applicability in studying many other proteins involved in neuronal functions.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Immunology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Proteins, Immunohistochemistry, Immunological Synapses, Synapses, Hippocampus, Microscopy, Electron, Neuronal Plasticity, plasticity, Nervous System, Organotypic cultures, hippocampus, electron microscopy, post-embedding, immunogold labeling, fixation, cell culture, imaging
Two-Photon in vivo Imaging of Dendritic Spines in the Mouse Cortex Using a Thinned-skull Preparation
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the mammalian cortex, neurons form extremely complicated networks and exchange information at synapses. Changes in synaptic strength, as well as addition/removal of synapses, occur in an experience-dependent manner, providing the structural foundation of neuronal plasticity. As postsynaptic components of the most excitatory synapses in the cortex, dendritic spines are considered to be a good proxy of synapses. Taking advantages of mouse genetics and fluorescent labeling techniques, individual neurons and their synaptic structures can be labeled in the intact brain. Here we introduce a transcranial imaging protocol using two-photon laser scanning microscopy to follow fluorescently labeled postsynaptic dendritic spines over time in vivo
. This protocol utilizes a thinned-skull preparation, which keeps the skull intact and avoids inflammatory effects caused by exposure of the meninges and the cortex. Therefore, images can be acquired immediately after surgery is performed. The experimental procedure can be performed repetitively over various time intervals ranging from hours to years. The application of this preparation can also be expanded to investigate different cortical regions and layers, as well as other cell types, under physiological and pathological conditions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, dendritic spine, mouse cortex, in vivo, two-photon microscopy, thinned-skull, imaging
Monitoring of Ubiquitin-proteasome Activity in Living Cells Using a Degron (dgn)-destabilized Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP)-based Reporter Protein
Institutions: Institute for Biomedical Aging Research, Leiden University Medical Center.
Proteasome is the main intracellular organelle involved in the proteolytic degradation of abnormal, misfolded, damaged or oxidized proteins 1, 2
. Maintenance of proteasome activity was implicated in many key cellular processes, like cell's stress response 3
, cell cycle regulation and cellular differentiation 4
or in immune system response 5
. The dysfunction of the ubiquitin-proteasome system has been related to the development of tumors and neurodegenerative diseases 4, 6
. Additionally, a decrease in proteasome activity was found as a feature of cellular senescence and organismal aging 7, 8, 9, 10
. Here, we present a method to measure ubiquitin-proteasome activity in living cells using a GFP-dgn fusion protein. To be able to monitor ubiquitin-proteasome activity in living primary cells, complementary DNA constructs coding for a green fluorescent protein (GFP)–dgn fusion protein (GFP–dgn, unstable) and a variant carrying a frameshift mutation (GFP–dgnFS, stable 11
) are inserted in lentiviral expression vectors. We prefer this technique over traditional transfection techniques because it guarantees a very high transfection efficiency independent of the cell type or the age of the donor. The difference between fluorescence displayed by the GFP–dgnFS (stable) protein and the destabilized protein (GFP-dgn) in the absence or presence of proteasome inhibitor can be used to estimate ubiquitin-proteasome activity in each particular cell strain. These differences can be monitored by epifluorescence microscopy or can be measured by flow cytometry.
Cellular Biology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Virology, proteasome activity, lentiviral particles, GFP-dgn, GFP-dgnFS, GFP, human diploid fibroblasts, flow cytometry, plasmid, vector
Imaging Dendritic Spines of Rat Primary Hippocampal Neurons using Structured Illumination Microscopy
Institutions: University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam.
Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm.
Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro
, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Dendritic Spine, Microscopy, Confocal, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, hippocampus, primary neuron, super resolution microscopy, structured illumination microscopy (SIM), neuroscience, dendrite
Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: University of Auckland, Stanford University.
Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, hippocampus, paired recording, whole cell recording, organotypic slice, synapse, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity
Genetic Manipulation of Cerebellar Granule Neurons In Vitro and In Vivo to Study Neuronal Morphology and Migration
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine, Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain (CNMPB).
Developmental events in the brain including neuronal morphogenesis and migration are highly orchestrated processes. In vitro
and in vivo
analyses allow for an in-depth characterization to identify pathways involved in these events. Cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) that are derived from the developing cerebellum are an ideal model system that allows for morphological analyses. Here, we describe a method of how to genetically manipulate CGNs and how to study axono- and dendritogenesis of individual neurons. With this method the effects of RNA interference, overexpression or small molecules can be compared to control neurons. In addition, the rodent cerebellar cortex is an easily accessible in vivo
system owing to its predominant postnatal development. We also present an in vivo
electroporation technique to genetically manipulate the developing cerebella and describe subsequent cerebellar analyses to assess neuronal morphology and migration.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, axons, dendrites, neuronal migration, cerebellum, cultured neurons, transfection, in vivo electroporation
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
Multi-photon Intracellular Sodium Imaging Combined with UV-mediated Focal Uncaging of Glutamate in CA1 Pyramidal Neurons
Institutions: Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.
Multi-photon fluorescence microscopy has enabled the analysis of morphological and physiological parameters of brain cells in the intact tissue with high spatial and temporal resolution. Combined with electrophysiology, it is widely used to study activity-related calcium signals in small subcellular compartments such as dendrites and dendritic spines. In addition to calcium transients, synaptic activity also induces postsynaptic sodium signals, the properties of which are only marginally understood. Here, we describe a method for combined whole-cell patch-clamp and multi-photon sodium imaging in cellular micro domains of central neurons. Furthermore, we introduce a modified procedure for ultra-violet (UV)-light-induced uncaging of glutamate, which allows reliable and focal activation of glutamate receptors in the tissue. To this end, whole-cell recordings were performed on Cornu Ammonis
subdivision 1 (CA1) pyramidal neurons in acute tissue slices of the mouse hippocampus. Neurons were filled with the sodium-sensitive fluorescent dye SBFI through the patch-pipette, and multi-photon excitation of SBFI enabled the visualization of dendrites and adjacent spines. To establish UV-induced focal uncaging, several parameters including light intensity, volume affected by the UV uncaging beam, positioning of the beam as well as concentration of the caged compound were tested and optimized. Our results show that local perfusion with caged glutamate (MNI-Glutamate) and its focal UV-uncaging result in inward currents and sodium transients in dendrites and spines. Time course and amplitude of both inward currents and sodium signals correlate with the duration of the uncaging pulse. Furthermore, our results show that intracellular sodium signals are blocked in the presence of blockers for ionotropic glutamate receptors, demonstrating that they are mediated by sodium influx though this pathway. In summary, our method provides a reliable tool for the investigation of intracellular sodium signals induced by focal receptor activation in intact brain tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Neurosciences, two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp, UV-flash photolysis, mouse, hippocampus, caged compounds, glutamate, brain slice, dendrite, sodium signals
Using an α-Bungarotoxin Binding Site Tag to Study GABA A Receptor Membrane Localization and Trafficking
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
It is increasingly evident that neurotransmitter receptors, including ionotropic GABA A receptors (GABAAR), exhibit highly dynamic trafficking and cell surface mobility1-7
. To study receptor cell surface localization and endocytosis, the technique described here combines the use of fluorescent α-bungarotoxin with cells expressing constructs containing an α-bungarotoxin (Bgt) binding site (BBS). The BBS (WRYYESSLEPYPD) is based on the α subunit of the muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, which binds Bgt with high affinity8,9
. Incorporation of the BBS site allows surface localization and measurements of receptor insertion or removal with application of exogenous fluorescent Bgt, as previously described in the tracking of GABAA and metabotropic GABAB receptors2,10
. In addition to the BBS site, we inserted a pH-sensitive GFP (pHGFP11
) between amino acids 4 and 5 of the mature GABAAR subunit by standard molecular biology and PCR cloning strategies (see Figure 1
. The BBS is 3' of the pH-sensitive GFP reporter, separated by a 13-amino acid alanine/proline linker. For trafficking studies described in this publication that are based on fixed samples, the pHGFP serves as a reporter of total tagged GABAAR subunit protein levels, allowing normalization of the Bgt labeled receptor population to total receptor population. This minimizes cell to cell Bgt staining signal variability resulting from higher or lower baseline expression of the tagged GABAAR subunits. Furthermore the pHGFP tag enables easy identification of construct expressing cells for live or fixed imaging experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, α-bungarotoxin, binding site, endocytosis, immunostaining, rodent hippocampal neurons, receptor, trafficking, plasma membrane
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus
egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3
. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus
egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus
egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35
S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus
egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
Reporter-based Growth Assay for Systematic Analysis of Protein Degradation
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Protein degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is a major regulatory mechanism for protein homeostasis in all eukaryotes. The standard approach to determining intracellular protein degradation relies on biochemical assays for following the kinetics of protein decline. Such methods are often laborious and time consuming and therefore not amenable to experiments aimed at assessing multiple substrates and degradation conditions. As an alternative, cell growth-based assays have been developed, that are, in their conventional format, end-point assays that cannot quantitatively determine relative changes in protein levels.
Here we describe a method that faithfully determines changes in protein degradation rates by coupling them to yeast cell-growth kinetics. The method is based on an established selection system where uracil auxotrophy of URA3
-deleted yeast cells is rescued by an exogenously expressed reporter protein, comprised of a fusion between the essential URA3
gene and a degradation determinant (degron). The reporter protein is designed so that its synthesis rate is constant whilst its degradation rate is determined by the degron. As cell growth in uracil-deficient medium is proportional to the relative levels of Ura3, growth kinetics are entirely dependent on the reporter protein degradation.
This method accurately measures changes in intracellular protein degradation kinetics. It was applied to: (a) Assessing the relative contribution of known ubiquitin-conjugating factors to proteolysis (b) E2 conjugating enzyme structure-function analyses (c) Identification and characterization of novel degrons. Application of the degron-URA3
-based system transcends the protein degradation field, as it can also be adapted to monitoring changes of protein levels associated with functions of other cellular pathways.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Protein Degradation, Ubiquitin, Proteasome, Baker's Yeast, Growth kinetics, Doubling time
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Identifying Protein-protein Interaction in Drosophila Adult Heads by Tandem Affinity Purification (TAP)
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
Genetic screens conducted using Drosophila melanogaster
(fruit fly) have made numerous milestone discoveries in the advance of biological sciences. However, the use of biochemical screens aimed at extending the knowledge gained from genetic analysis was explored only recently. Here we describe a method to purify the protein complex that associates with any protein of interest from adult fly heads. This method takes advantage of the Drosophila
GAL4/UAS system to express a bait protein fused with a Tandem Affinity Purification (TAP) tag in fly neurons in vivo
, and then implements two rounds of purification using a TAP procedure similar to the one originally established in yeast1
to purify the interacting protein complex. At the end of this procedure, a mixture of multiple protein complexes is obtained whose molecular identities can be determined by mass spectrometry. Validation of the candidate proteins will benefit from the resource and ease of performing loss-of-function studies in flies. Similar approaches can be applied to other fly tissues. We believe that the combination of genetic manipulations and this proteomic approach in the fly model system holds tremendous potential for tackling fundamental problems in the field of neurobiology and beyond.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, Drosophila, GAL4/UAS system, transgenic, Tandem Affinity Purification, protein-protein interaction, proteomics
Assaying Proteasomal Degradation in a Cell-free System in Plants
Institutions: Stony Brook University, State University of New York.
The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway for protein degradation has emerged as one of the most important mechanisms for regulation of a wide spectrum of cellular functions in virtually all eukaryotic organisms. Specifically, in plants, the ubiquitin/26S proteasome system (UPS) regulates protein degradation and contributes significantly to development of a wide range of processes, including immune response, development and programmed cell death. Moreover, increasing evidence suggests that numerous plant pathogens, such as Agrobacterium
, exploit the host UPS for efficient infection, emphasizing the importance of UPS in plant-pathogen interactions.
The substrate specificity of UPS is achieved by the E3 ubiquitin ligase that acts in concert with the E1 and E2 ligases to recognize and mark specific protein molecules destined for degradation by attaching to them chains of ubiquitin molecules. One class of the E3 ligases is the SCF (Skp1/Cullin/F-box protein) complex, which specifically recognizes the UPS substrates and targets them for ubiquitination via
its F-box protein component. To investigate a potential role of UPS in a biological process of interest, it is important to devise a simple and reliable assay for UPS-mediated protein degradation. Here, we describe one such assay using a plant cell-free system. This assay can be adapted for studies of the roles of regulated protein degradation in diverse cellular processes, with a special focus on the F-box protein-substrate interactions.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, Ubiquitin/proteasome system, 26S proteasome, protein degradation, proteasome inhibitor, Western blotting, plant genetic transformation
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, firstname.lastname@example.org) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
Preparation of Synaptic Plasma Membrane and Postsynaptic Density Proteins Using a Discontinuous Sucrose Gradient
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Neuronal subcellular fractionation techniques allow the quantification of proteins that are trafficked to and from the synapse. As originally described in the late 1960’s, proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane can be isolated by ultracentrifugation on a sucrose density gradient. Once synaptic membranes are isolated, the macromolecular complex known as the post-synaptic density can be subsequently isolated due to its detergent insolubility. The techniques used to isolate synaptic plasma membranes and post-synaptic density proteins remain essentially the same after 40 years, and are widely used in current neuroscience research. This article details the fractionation of proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane and post-synaptic density using a discontinuous sucrose gradient. Resulting protein preparations are suitable for western blotting or 2D DIGE analysis.
Neurobiology, Issue 91, brain, synapse, western blot, ultracentrifugation, SPM, PSD
Detection of Protein Ubiquitination
Institutions: The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research.
Ubiquitination, the covalent attachment of the polypeptide ubiquitin to target proteins, is a key posttranslational modification carried out by a set of three enzymes. They include ubiquitin-activating enzyme E1, ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme E2, and ubiquitin ligase E3. Unlike to E1 and E2, E3 ubiquitin ligases display substrate specificity. On the other hand, numerous deubiquitylating enzymes have roles in processing polyubiquitinated proteins. Ubiquitination can result in change of protein stability, cellular localization, and biological activity. Mutations of genes involved in the ubiquitination/deubiquitination pathway or altered ubiquitin system function are associated with many different human diseases such as various types of cancer, neurodegeneration, and metabolic disorders. The detection of altered or normal ubiquitination of target proteins may provide a better understanding on the pathogenesis of these diseases. Here, we describe protocols to detect protein ubiquitination in cultured cells in vivo
and test tubes in vitro
. These protocols are also useful to detect other ubiquitin-like small molecule modification such as sumolyation and neddylation.
Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Issue 30, ubiquitination, cultured cell, in vitro system, immunoprecipitation, immunoblotting, ubiquitin, posttranslational modification