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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Osmotic Avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: Synaptic Function of Two Genes, Orthologues of Human NRXN1 and NLGN1, as Candidates for Autism
Institutions: Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Córdoba, Instituto Maimónides de Investigación Biomédica de Córdoba (IMIBIC).
Neurexins and neuroligins are cell adhesion molecules present in excitatory and inhibitory synapses, and they are required for correct neuron network function1
. These proteins are found at the presynaptic and postsynaptic membranes 2
. Studies in mice indicate that neurexins and neurologins have an essential role in synaptic transmission 1
. Recent reports have shown that altered neuronal connections during the development of the human nervous system could constitute the basis of the etiology of numerous cases of autism spectrum disorders 3
could be used as an experimental tool to facilitate the study of the functioning of synaptic components, because of its simplicity for laboratory experimentation, and given that its nervous system and synaptic wiring has been fully characterized. In C
. elegans nrx-1
genes are orthologous to human NRXN1
genes which encode alpha-neurexin-1 and neuroligin-1 proteins, respectively. In humans and nematodes, the organization of neurexins and neuroligins is similar in respect to functional domains.
The head of the nematode contains the amphid, a sensory organ of the nematode, which mediates responses to different stimuli, including osmotic strength. The amphid is made of 12 sensory bipolar neurons with ciliated dendrites and one presynaptic terminal axon 4
. Two of these neurons, named ASHR and ASHL are particularly important in osmotic sensory function, detecting water-soluble repellents with high osmotic strength 5
. The dendrites of these two neurons lengthen to the tip of the mouth and the axons extend to the nerve ring, where they make synaptic connections with other neurons determining the behavioral response 6
To evaluate the implications of neurexin and neuroligin in high osmotic strength avoidance, we show the different response of C. elegans mutants defective in nrx-1
genes, using a method based on a 4M fructose ring 7
. The behavioral phenotypes were confirmed using specific RNAi clones 8
. In C. elegans
, the dsRNA required to trigger RNAi can be administered by feeding 9
. The delivery of dsRNA through food induces the RNAi interference of the gene of interest thus allowing the identification of genetic components and network pathways.
Neuroscience, Microbiology, Issue 34, synapse, osmotic sensitivity, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurexin, neuroligin, autism, neuroscience
Long-term Potentiation of Perforant Pathway-dentate Gyrus Synapse in Freely Behaving Mice
Institutions: Trinity College.
Studies of long-term potentiation of synaptic efficacy, an activity-dependent synaptic phenomenon having properties that make it attractive as a potential cellular mechanism underlying learning and information storage, have long been used to elucidate the physiology of various neuronal circuits in the hippocampus, amygdala, and other limbic and cortical structures. With this in mind, transgenic mouse models of neurological diseases represent useful platforms to conduct long-term potentiation (LTP) studies to develop a greater understanding of the role of genes in normal and abnormal synaptic communication in neuronal networks involved in learning, emotion and information processing. This article describes methodologies for reliably inducing LTP in the freely behaving mouse. These methodologies can be used in studies of transgenic and knockout freely behaving mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases.
Behavior, Issue 81, freely behaving animal, mouse, dentate gyrus, hippocampus, long term potentiation, electrophysical research technique
Isolation and Culture of Mouse Cortical Astrocytes
Institutions: University of Freiburg , University of Freiburg .
Astrocytes are an abundant cell type in the mammalian brain, yet much remains to be learned about their molecular and functional characteristics. In vitro
astrocyte cell culture systems can be used to study the biological functions of these glial cells in detail. This video protocol shows how to obtain pure astrocytes by isolation and culture of mixed cortical cells of mouse pups. The method is based on the absence of viable neurons and the separation of astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and microglia, the three main glial cell populations of the central nervous system, in culture. Representative images during the first days of culture demonstrate the presence of a mixed cell population and indicate the timepoint, when astrocytes become confluent and should be separated from microglia and oligodendrocytes. Moreover, we demonstrate purity and astrocytic morphology of cultured astrocytes using immunocytochemical stainings for well established and newly described astrocyte markers. This culture system can be easily used to obtain pure mouse astrocytes and astrocyte-conditioned medium for studying various aspects of astrocyte biology.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, brain, mouse, astrocyte culture, astrocyte, fibroblast, fibrinogen, chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan, neuronal regeneration, cell culture, animal model
Ex utero Electroporation and Whole Hemisphere Explants: A Simple Experimental Method for Studies of Early Cortical Development
Institutions: SUNY Upstate Medical University.
Cortical development involves complex interactions between neurons and non-neuronal elements including precursor cells, blood vessels, meninges and associated extracellular matrix. Because they provide a suitable organotypic environment, cortical slice explants are often used to investigate those interactions that control neuronal differentiation and development. Although beneficial, the slice explant model can suffer from drawbacks including aberrant cellular lamination and migration. Here we report a whole cerebral hemisphere explant system for studies of early cortical development that is easier to prepare than cortical slices and shows consistent organotypic migration and lamination. In this model system, early lamination and migration patterns proceed normally for a period of two days in vitro
, including the period of preplate splitting, during which prospective cortical layer six forms. We then developed an ex utero
electroporation (EUEP) approach that achieves ~80% success in targeting GFP expression to neurons developing in the dorsal medial cortex.
The whole hemisphere explant model makes early cortical development accessible for electroporation, pharmacological intervention and live imaging approaches. This method avoids the survival surgery required of in utero
electroporation (IUEP) approaches while improving both transfection and areal targeting consistency. This method will facilitate experimental studies of neuronal proliferation, migration and differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Genetics, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Tissue Engineering, preplate splitting, in vitro preparation, dendritogenesis, gene function assay, in utero electroporation, GFP, hemisphere explants, gene expression, plasmid, explant, tissue, cell culture, tissue culture, animal model
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
A Comprehensive Protocol for Manual Segmentation of the Medial Temporal Lobe Structures
Institutions: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The present paper describes a comprehensive protocol for manual tracing of the set of brain regions comprising the medial temporal lobe (MTL): amygdala, hippocampus, and the associated parahippocampal regions (perirhinal, entorhinal, and parahippocampal proper). Unlike most other tracing protocols available, typically focusing on certain MTL areas (e.g.
, amygdala and/or hippocampus), the integrative perspective adopted by the present tracing guidelines allows for clear localization of all MTL subregions. By integrating information from a variety of sources, including extant tracing protocols separately targeting various MTL structures, histological reports, and brain atlases, and with the complement of illustrative visual materials, the present protocol provides an accurate, intuitive, and convenient guide for understanding the MTL anatomy. The need for such tracing guidelines is also emphasized by illustrating possible differences between automatic and manual segmentation protocols. This knowledge can be applied toward research involving not only structural MRI investigations but also structural-functional colocalization and fMRI signal extraction from anatomically defined ROIs, in healthy and clinical groups alike.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, Anatomy, Segmentation, Medial Temporal Lobe, MRI, Manual Tracing, Amygdala, Hippocampus, Perirhinal Cortex, Entorhinal Cortex, Parahippocampal Cortex
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
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
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
Laser-scanning Photostimulation of Optogenetically Targeted Forebrain Circuits
Institutions: Louisiana State University, University of Chicago.
The sensory forebrain is composed of intricately connected cell types, of which functional properties have yet to be fully elucidated. Understanding the interactions of these forebrain circuits has been aided recently by the development of optogenetic methods for light-mediated modulation of neuronal activity. Here, we describe a protocol for examining the functional organization of forebrain circuits in vitro
using laser-scanning photostimulation of channelrhodopsin, expressed optogenetically via viral-mediated transfection. This approach also exploits the utility of cre-lox recombination in transgenic mice to target expression in specific neuronal cell types. Following transfection, neurons are physiologically recorded in slice preparations using whole-cell patch clamp to measure their evoked responses to laser-scanning photostimulation of channelrhodopsin expressing fibers. This approach enables an assessment of functional topography and synaptic properties. Morphological correlates can be obtained by imaging the neuroanatomical expression of channelrhodopsin expressing fibers using confocal microscopy of the live slice or post-fixed tissue. These methods enable functional investigations of forebrain circuits that expand upon more conventional approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, optogenetics, cortex, thalamus, channelrhodopsin, photostimulation, auditory, visual, somatosensory
Regioselective Biolistic Targeting in Organotypic Brain Slices Using a Modified Gene Gun
Institutions: University of Toronto, MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.
Transfection of DNA has been invaluable for biological sciences and with recent advances to organotypic brain slice preparations, the effect of various heterologous genes could thus be investigated easily while maintaining many aspects of in vivo
biology. There has been increasing interest to transfect terminally differentiated neurons for which conventional transfection methods have been fraught with difficulties such as low yields and significant losses in viability. Biolistic transfection can circumvent many of these difficulties yet only recently has this technique been modified so that it is amenable for use in mammalian tissues.
New modifications to the accelerator chamber have enhanced the gene gun's firing accuracy and increased its depths of penetration while also allowing the use of lower gas pressure (50 psi) without loss of transfection efficiency as well as permitting a focused regioselective spread of the particles to within 3 mm. In addition, this technique is straight forward and faster to perform than tedious microinjections. Both transient and stable expression are possible with nanoparticle bombardment where episomal expression can be detected within 24 hr and the cell survival was shown to be better than, or at least equal to, conventional methods. This technique has however one crucial advantage: it permits the transfection to be localized within a single restrained radius thus enabling the user to anatomically isolate the heterologous gene's effects. Here we present an in-depth protocol to prepare viable adult organotypic slices and submit them to regioselective transfection using an improved gene gun.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Biolistics, gene gun, organotypic brain slices, Diolistic, gene delivery, staining
Automated Quantification of Synaptic Fluorescence in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Toledo .
Synapse strength refers to the amplitude of postsynaptic responses to presynaptic neurotransmitter release events, and has a major impact on overall neural circuit function. Synapse strength critically depends on the abundance of neurotransmitter receptors clustered at synaptic sites on the postsynaptic membrane. Receptor levels are established developmentally, and can be altered by receptor trafficking between surface-localized, subsynaptic, and intracellular pools, representing important mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation. Rigorous methods to quantify synaptically-localized neurotransmitter receptor abundance are essential to study synaptic development and plasticity. Fluorescence microscopy is an optimal approach because it preserves spatial information, distinguishing synaptic from non-synaptic pools, and discriminating among receptor populations localized to different types of synapses. The genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans
is particularly well suited for these studies due to the small size and relative simplicity of its nervous system, its transparency, and the availability of powerful genetic techniques, allowing examination of native synapses in intact animals.
Here we present a method for quantifying fluorescently-labeled synaptic neurotransmitter receptors in C. elegans
. Its key feature is the automated identification and analysis of individual synapses in three dimensions in multi-plane confocal microscope output files, tabulating position, volume, fluorescence intensity, and total fluorescence for each synapse. This approach has two principal advantages over manual analysis of z-plane projections of confocal data. First, because every plane of the confocal data set is included, no data are lost through z-plane projection, typically based on pixel intensity averages or maxima. Second, identification of synapses is automated, but can be inspected by the experimenter as the data analysis proceeds, allowing fast and accurate extraction of data from large numbers of synapses. Hundreds to thousands of synapses per sample can easily be obtained, producing large data sets to maximize statistical power. Considerations for preparing C. elegans
for analysis, and performing confocal imaging to minimize variability between animals within treatment groups are also discussed. Although developed to analyze C. elegans
postsynaptic receptors, this method is generally useful for any type of synaptically-localized protein, or indeed, any fluorescence signal that is localized to discrete clusters, puncta, or organelles.
The procedure is performed in three steps: 1) preparation of samples, 2) confocal imaging, and 3) image analysis. Steps 1 and 2 are specific to C. elegans
, while step 3 is generally applicable to any punctate fluorescence signal in confocal micrographs.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Developmental Biology, Neurotransmitter receptors, quantification, confocal microscopy, immunostaining, fluorescence, Volocity, UNC-49 GABA receptors, C. elegans
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
Preparation of Oligomeric β-amyloid1-42 and Induction of Synaptic Plasticity Impairment on Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: Columbia University.
Impairment of synaptic connections is likely to underlie the subtle amnesic changes occurring at the early stages of Alzheimer s Disease (AD). β-amyloid (Aβ), a peptide produced in high amounts in AD, is known to reduce Long-Term Potentiation (LTP), a cellular correlate of learning and memory. Indeed, LTP impairment caused by Aβ is a useful experimental paradigm for studying synaptic dysfunctions in AD models and for screening drugs capable of mitigating or reverting such synaptic impairments. Studies have shown that Aβ produces the LTP disruption preferentially via its oligomeric form. Here we provide a detailed protocol for impairing LTP by perfusion of oligomerized synthetic Aβ1-42 peptide onto acute hippocampal slices. In this video, we outline a step-by-step procedure for the preparation of oligomeric Aβ1-42
. Then, we follow an individual experiment in which LTP is reduced in hippocampal slices exposed to oligomerized Aβ1-42
compared to slices in a control experiment where no Aβ1-42
exposure had occurred.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, brain, mouse, hippocampus, plasticity, LTP, amyloid
Physiological Recordings of High and Low Output NMJs on the Crayfish Leg Extensor Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
We explain in detail how to expose and conduct electrophysiological recordings of synaptic responses for high (phasic) and low (tonic) output motor neurons innervating the extensor muscle in the walking leg of a crayfish. Distinct differences are present in the physiology and morphology of the phasic and tonic nerve terminals. The tonic axon contains many more mitochondria, enabling it to take a vital stain more intensely than the phasic axon. The tonic terminals have varicosities, and the phasic terminal is filiform. The tonic terminals are low in synaptic efficacy but show dramatic facilitated responses. In contrast, the phasic terminals are high in quantal efficacy but show synaptic depression with high frequency stimulation. The quantal output is measured with a focal macropatch electrode placed directly over the visualized nerve terminals. Both phasic and tonic terminals innervate the same muscle fibers, which suggests that inherent differences in the neurons, rather than differential retrograde feedback from the muscle, account for the morphological and physiological differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, crayfish, neuromuscular junction, invertebrate, motor neuron, muscle
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, email@example.com) 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
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
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Improved Preparation and Preservation of Hippocampal Mouse Slices for a Very Stable and Reproducible Recording of Long-term Potentiation
Institutions: University of Mons.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a type of synaptic plasticity characterized by an increase in synaptic strength and believed to be involved in memory encoding. LTP elicited in the CA1 region of acute hippocampal slices has been extensively studied. However the molecular mechanisms underlying the maintenance phase of this phenomenon are still poorly understood. This could be partly due to the various experimental conditions used by different laboratories. Indeed, the maintenance phase of LTP is strongly dependent on external parameters like oxygenation, temperature and humidity. It is also dependent on internal parameters like orientation of the slicing plane and slice viability after dissection.
The optimization of all these parameters enables the induction of a very reproducible and very stable long-term potentiation. This methodology offers the possibility to further explore the molecular mechanisms involved in the stable increase in synaptic strength in hippocampal slices. It also highlights the importance of experimental conditions in in vitro
investigation of neurophysiological phenomena.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Memory Disorders, Learning, Memory, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, hippocampus, long-term potentiation, mice, acute slices, synaptic plasticity, in vitro, electrophysiology, animal model
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
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
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Preparation of Acute Hippocampal Slices from Rats and Transgenic Mice for the Study of Synaptic Alterations during Aging and Amyloid Pathology
Institutions: University of Kentucky College of Public Health, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
The rodent hippocampal slice preparation is perhaps the most broadly used tool for investigating mammalian synaptic function and plasticity. The hippocampus can be extracted quickly and easily from rats and mice and slices remain viable for hours in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid. Moreover, basic electrophysisologic techniques are easily applied to the investigation of synaptic function in hippocampal slices and have provided some of the best biomarkers for cognitive impairments. The hippocampal slice is especially popular for the study of synaptic plasticity mechanisms involved in learning and memory. Changes in the induction of long-term potentiation and depression (LTP and LTD) of synaptic efficacy in hippocampal slices (or lack thereof) are frequently used to describe the neurologic phenotype of cognitively-impaired animals and/or to evaluate the mechanism of action of nootropic compounds. This article outlines the procedures we use for preparing hippocampal slices from rats and transgenic mice for the study of synaptic alterations associated with brain aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD)1-3
. Use of aged rats and AD model mice can present a unique set of challenges to researchers accustomed to using younger rats and/or mice in their research. Aged rats have thicker skulls and tougher connective tissue than younger rats and mice, which can delay brain extraction and/or dissection and consequently negate or exaggerate real age-differences in synaptic function and plasticity. Aging and amyloid pathology may also exacerbate hippocampal damage sustained during the dissection procedure, again complicating any inferences drawn from physiologic assessment. Here, we discuss the steps taken during the dissection procedure to minimize these problems. Examples of synaptic responses acquired in "healthy" and "unhealthy" slices from rats and mice are provided, as well as representative synaptic plasticity experiments. The possible impact of other methodological factors on synaptic function in these animal models (e.g. recording solution components, stimulation parameters) are also discussed. While the focus of this article is on the use of aged rats and transgenic mice, novices to slice physiology should find enough detail here to get started on their own studies, using a variety of rodent models.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, aging, amyloid, hippocampal slice, synaptic plasticity, Ca2+, CA1, electrophysiology
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
Dissecting and Recording from The C. Elegans Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago.
Neurotransmission is the process by which neurons transfer information via chemical signals to their post-synaptic targets, on a rapid time scale. This complex process requires the coordinated activity of many pre- and post-synaptic proteins to ensure appropriate synaptic connectivity, conduction of electrical signals, targeting and priming of secretory vesicles, calcium sensing, vesicle fusion, localization and function of postsynaptic receptors and finally, recycling mechanisms. As neuroscientists it is our goal to elucidate which proteins function in each of these steps and understand their mechanisms of action. Electrophysiological recordings from synapses provide a quantifiable read out of the underlying electrical events that occur during synaptic transmission. By combining this technique with the powerful array of molecular and genetic tools available to manipulate synaptic proteins in C. elegans
, we can analyze the resulting functional changes in synaptic transmission.
The C. elegans
NMJs formed between motor neurons and body wall muscles control locomotion, therefore, mutants with uncoordinated locomotory phenotypes (known as unc
s) often perturb synaptic transmission at these synapses 1
. Since unc
mutants are maintained on a rich supply of a bacterial food source, they remain viable as long as they retain some pharyngeal pumping ability to ingest food. This, together with the fact that C. elegans
exist as hermaphrodites, allows them to pass on mutant progeny without the need for elaborate mating behaviors. These attributes, coupled with our recent ability to record from the worms NMJs 2,3,7
make this an excellent model organism in which to address precisely how unc
mutants impact neurotransmission.
The dissection method involves immobilizing adult worms using a cyanoacrylic glue in order to make an incision in the worm cuticle exposing the NMJs. Since C. elegans
adults are only 1 mm in length the dissection is performed with the use of a dissecting microscope and requires excellent hand-eye coordination. NMJ recordings are made by whole-cell voltage clamping individual body wall muscle cells and neurotransmitter release can be evoked using a variety of stimulation protocols including electrical stimulation, light-activated channel-rhodopsin-mediated depolarization 4
and hyperosmotic saline, all of which will be briefly described.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Caenorhabditis elegans, electrophysiology, neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission
Presynaptically Silent Synapses Studied with Light Microscopy
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
Synaptic plasticity likely underlies the nervous system's ability to learn and remember and may also represent an adaptability that prevents otherwise damaging insults from becoming neurotoxic. We have been studying a form of presynaptic plasticity that is interesting in part because it is expressed as a digital switching on and off of a presynaptic terminal s ability to release vesicles containing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Here we demonstrate a protocol for visualizing the activity status of presynaptic terminals in dissociated cell cultures prepared from the rodent hippocampus. The method relies on detecting active synapses using staining with a fixable form of the styryl dye FM1-43, commonly used to label synaptic vesicles. This staining profile is compared with immunostaining of the same terminals with an antibody directed against the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT-1), a stain designed to label all glutamate synapses regardless of activation status. We find that depolarizing stimuli induce presynaptic silencing. The population of synapses that is silent under baseline conditions can be activated by prolonged electrical silencing or by activation of cAMP signaling pathways.
Neurobiology, Issue 35, glutamate, synaptic plasticity, cAMP, excitotoxicity, homeostasis, FM1-43, presynaptic plasticity