The role of individual neurons and their function in neuronal circuits is fundamental to understanding the neuronal mechanisms of sensory and motor functions. Most investigations of sensorimotor mechanisms rely on either examination of neurons while an animal is static1,2 or record extracellular neuronal activity during a movement.3,4 While these studies have provided the fundamental background for sensorimotor function, they either do not evaluate functional information which occurs during a movement or are limited in their ability to fully characterize the anatomy, physiology and neurochemical phenotype of the neuron. A technique is shown here which allows extensive characterization of individual neurons during an in vivo movement. This technique can be used not only to study primary afferent neurons but also to characterize motoneurons and sensorimotor interneurons. Initially the response of a single neuron is recorded using electrophysiological methods during various movements of the mandible followed by determination of the receptive field for the neuron. A neuronal tracer is then intracellularly injected into the neuron and the brain is processed so that the neuron can be visualized with light, electron or confocal microscopy (Fig. 1). The detailed morphology of the characterized neuron is then reconstructed so that neuronal morphology can be correlated with the physiological response of the neuron (Figs. 2,3). In this communication important key details and tips for successful implementation of this technique are provided. Valuable additional information can be determined for the neuron under study by combining this method with other techniques. Retrograde neuronal labeling can be used to determine neurons with which the labeled neuron synapses; thus allowing detailed determination of neuronal circuitry. Immunocytochemistry can be combined with this method to examine neurotransmitters within the labeled neuron and to determine the chemical phenotypes of neurons with which the labeled neuron synapses. The labeled neuron can also be processed for electron microscopy to determine the ultrastructural features and microcircuitry of the labeled neuron. Overall this technique is a powerful method to thoroughly characterize neurons during in vivo movement thus allowing substantial insight into the role of the neuron in sensorimotor function.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Retrograde Loading of Nerves, Tracts, and Spinal Roots with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.
Retrograde labeling of neurons is a standard anatomical method1,2
that has also been used to load calcium and voltage-sensitive dyes into neurons3-6
. Generally, the dyes are applied as solid crystals or by local pressure injection using glass pipettes. However, this can result in dilution of the dye and reduced labeling intensity, particularly when several hours are required for dye diffusion. Here we demonstrate a simple and low-cost technique for introducing fluorescent and ion-sensitive dyes into neurons using a polyethylene suction pipette filled with the dye solution. This method offers a reliable way for maintaining a high concentration of the dye in contact with axons throughout the loading procedure.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Retrograde labeling, Fluorescent dyes, Spinal cord, Nerves, Spinal tracts, Optical imaging, Electrophysiology, Calcium-sensitive dyes
Combining Peripheral Nerve Grafting and Matrix Modulation to Repair the Injured Rat Spinal Cord
Institutions: Drexel University College of Medicine.
Traumatic injury to the spinal cord (SCI) causes death of neurons, disruption of motor and sensory nerve fiber (axon) pathways and disruption of communication with the brain. One of the goals of our research is to promote axon regeneration to restore connectivity across the lesion site. To accomplish this we developed a peripheral nerve (PN) grafting technique where segments of sciatic nerve are either placed directly between the damaged ends of the spinal cord or are used to form a bridge across the lesion. There are several advantages to this approach compared to transplantation of other neural tissues; regenerating axons can be directed towards a specific target area, the number and source of regenerating axons is easily determined by tracing techniques, the graft can be used for electrophysiological experiments to measure functional recovery associated with axons in the graft, and it is possible to use an autologous nerve to reduce the possibility of graft rejection. In our lab we have performed both autologous (donor and recipient are the same animal) and heterologous (donor and recipient are different animals) grafts with comparable results. This approach has been used successfully in both acute and chronic injury situations. Regenerated axons that reach the distal end of the PN graft often fail to extend back into the spinal cord, so we use microinjections of chondroitinase to degrade inhibitory molecules associated with the scar tissue surrounding the area of SCI. At the same time we have found that providing exogenous growth and trophic molecules encourages longer distance axonal regrowth into the spinal cord. Several months after transplantation we perform a variety of anatomical, behavioral and electrophysiological tests to evaluate the recovery of function in our spinal cord injured animals. This experimental approach has been used successfully in several spinal cord injury models, at different levels of injury and in different species (mouse, rat and cat). Importantly, the peripheral nerve grafting approach is effective in promoting regeneration by acute and chronically injured neurons.
Neurobiology, Issue 33, transplantation, SCI, regeneration, tract tracing, electrophysiology
Preparation and Culture of Chicken Auditory Brainstem Slices
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
The chicken auditory brainstem is a well-established model system that has been widely used to study the anatomy and physiology of auditory processing at discreet periods of development 1-4
as well as mechanisms for temporal coding in the central nervous system 5-7
Here we present a method to prepare chicken auditory brainstem slices that can be used for acute experimental procedures or to culture organotypic slices for long-term experimental manipulations.
The chicken auditory brainstem is composed of nucleus angularis, magnocellularis, laminaris and superior olive. These nuclei are responsible for binaural sound processing and single coronal slice preparations preserve the entire circuitry. Ultimately, organotypic slice cultures can provide the opportunity to manipulate several developmental parameters such as synaptic activity, expression of pre and postsynaptic components, expression of aspects controlling excitability and differential gene expression
This approach can be used to broaden general knowledge about neural circuit development, refinement and maturation.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, slice preparation, chicken auditory brainstem, organotypic cultures, nucleus laminaris, nucleus magnocellularis
Complete Spinal Cord Injury and Brain Dissection Protocol for Subsequent Wholemount In Situ Hybridization in Larval Sea Lamprey
Institutions: University of Edinburgh, Temple University School of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
After a complete spinal cord injury, sea lampreys at first are paralyzed below the level of transection. However, they recover locomotion after several weeks, and this is accompanied by short distance regeneration (a few mm) of propriospinal axons and spinal-projecting axons from the brainstem. Among the 36 large identifiable spinal-projecting neurons, some are good regenerators and others are bad regenerators. These neurons can most easily be identified in wholemount CNS preparations. In order to understand the neuron-intrinsic mechanisms that favor or inhibit axon regeneration after injury in the vertebrates CNS, we determine differences in gene expression between the good and bad regenerators, and how expression is influenced by spinal cord transection. This paper illustrates the techniques for housing larval and recently transformed adult sea lampreys in fresh water tanks, producing complete spinal cord transections under microscopic vision, and preparing brain and spinal cord wholemounts for in situ hybridization. Briefly, animals are kept at 16
°C and anesthetized in 1% Benzocaine in lamprey Ringer. The spinal cord is transected with iridectomy scissors via a dorsal approach and the animal is allowed to recover in fresh water tanks at 23 °C. For in situ
hybridization, animals are reanesthetized and the brain and cord removed via a dorsal approach.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, spinal cord injury, axonal guidance molecules, neurofilaments, regeneration
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
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
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
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
Voltage-sensitive Dye Recording from Axons, Dendrites and Dendritic Spines of Individual Neurons in Brain Slices
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Understanding the biophysical properties and functional organization of single neurons and how they process information is fundamental for understanding how the brain works. The primary function of any nerve cell is to process electrical signals, usually from multiple sources. Electrical properties of neuronal processes are extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and, in the general case, impossible to predict in the absence of detailed measurements. To obtain such a measurement one would, ideally, like to be able to monitor, at multiple sites, subthreshold events as they travel from the sites of origin on neuronal processes and summate at particular locations to influence action potential initiation. This goal has not been achieved in any neuron due to technical limitations of measurements that employ electrodes. To overcome this drawback, it is highly desirable to complement the patch-electrode approach with imaging techniques that permit extensive parallel recordings from all parts of a neuron. Here, we describe such a technique - optical recording of membrane potential transients with organic voltage-sensitive dyes (Vm
-imaging) - characterized by sub-millisecond and sub-micrometer resolution. Our method is based on pioneering work on voltage-sensitive molecular probes 2
. Many aspects of the initial technology have been continuously improved over several decades 3, 5, 11
. Additionally, previous work documented two essential characteristics of Vm-
imaging. Firstly, fluorescence signals are linearly proportional to membrane potential over the entire physiological range (-100 mV to +100 mV; 10, 14, 16
). Secondly, loading neurons with the voltage-sensitive dye used here (JPW 3028) does not have detectable pharmacological effects. The recorded broadening of the spike during dye loading is completely reversible 4, 7
. Additionally, experimental evidence shows that it is possible to obtain a significant number (up to hundreds) of recordings prior to any detectable phototoxic effects 4, 6, 12, 13
. At present, we take advantage of the superb brightness and stability of a laser light source at near-optimal wavelength to maximize the sensitivity of the Vm
-imaging technique. The current sensitivity permits multiple site optical recordings of Vm
transients from all parts of a neuron, including axons and axon collaterals, terminal dendritic branches, and individual dendritic spines. The acquired information on signal interactions can be analyzed quantitatively as well as directly visualized in the form of a movie.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, voltage-sensitive dyes, brain, imaging, dendritic spines, axons, dendrites, neurons
Meal Duration as a Measure of Orofacial Nociceptive Responses in Rodents
Institutions: Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.
A lengthening in meal duration can be used to measure an increase in orofacial mechanical hyperalgesia having similarities to the guarding behavior of humans with orofacial pain. To measure meal duration unrestrained rats are continuously kept in sound attenuated, computerized feeding modules for days to weeks to record feeding behavior. These sound-attenuated chambers are equipped with chow pellet dispensers. The dispenser has a pellet trough with a photobeam placed at the bottom of the trough and when a rodent removes a pellet from the feeder trough this beam is no longer blocked, signaling the computer to drop another pellet. The computer records the date and time when the pellets were taken from the trough and from this data the experimenter can calculate the meal parameters. When calculating meal parameters a meal was defined based on previous work and was set at 10 min (in other words when the animal does not eat for 10 min that would be the end of the animal's meal) also the minimum meal size was set at 3 pellets. The meal duration, meal number, food intake, meal size and inter-meal interval can then be calculated by the software for any time period that the operator desires. Of the feeding parameters that can be calculated meal duration has been shown to be a continuous noninvasive biological marker of orofacial nociception in male rats and mice and female rats. Meal duration measurements are quantitative, require no training or animal manipulation, require cortical participation, and do not compete with other experimentally induced behaviors. These factors distinguish this assay from other operant or reflex methods for recording orofacial nociception.
Behavior, Issue 83, Pain, rat, nociception, myofacial, orofacial, tooth, temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
A Method to Make a Craniotomy on the Ventral Skull of Neonate Rodents
Institutions: The City University of New York, City College, The City University of New York, City College.
The use of a craniotomy for in vivo
experiments provides an opportunity to investigate the dynamics of diverse cellular processes in the mammalian brain in adulthood and during development. Although most in vivo
approaches use a craniotomy to study brain regions located on the dorsal side, brainstem regions such as the pons, located on the ventral side remain relatively understudied. The main goal of this protocol is to facilitate access to ventral brainstem structures so that they can be studied in vivo
using electrophysiological and imaging methods. This approach allows study of structural changes in long-range axons, patterns of electrical activity in single and ensembles of cells, and changes in blood brain barrier permeability in neonate animals. Although this protocol has been used mostly to study the auditory brainstem in neonate rats, it can easily be adapted for studies in other rodent species such as neonate mice, adult rodents and other brainstem regions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, auditory system; blood brain barrier permeability; development; neurophysiology; two-photon microscopy, electrophysiology,
Detection of the Genome and Transcripts of a Persistent DNA Virus in Neuronal Tissues by Fluorescent In situ Hybridization Combined with Immunostaining
Institutions: CNRS UMR 5534, Université de Lyon 1, LabEX DEVweCAN, CNRS UPR 3296, CNRS UMR 5286.
Single cell codetection of a gene, its RNA product and cellular regulatory proteins is critical to study gene expression regulation. This is a challenge in the field of virology; in particular for nuclear-replicating persistent DNA viruses that involve animal models for their study. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) establishes a life-long latent infection in peripheral neurons. Latent virus serves as reservoir, from which it reactivates and induces a new herpetic episode. The cell biology of HSV-1 latency remains poorly understood, in part due to the lack of methods to detect HSV-1 genomes in situ
in animal models. We describe a DNA-fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH) approach efficiently detecting low-copy viral genomes within sections of neuronal tissues from infected animal models. The method relies on heat-based antigen unmasking, and directly labeled home-made DNA probes, or commercially available probes. We developed a triple staining approach, combining DNA-FISH with RNA-FISH and immunofluorescence, using peroxidase based signal amplification to accommodate each staining requirement. A major improvement is the ability to obtain, within 10 µm tissue sections, low-background signals that can be imaged at high resolution by confocal microscopy and wide-field conventional epifluorescence. Additionally, the triple staining worked with a wide range of antibodies directed against cellular and viral proteins. The complete protocol takes 2.5 days to accommodate antibody and probe penetration within the tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Life Sciences (General), Virology, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Latency, In situ hybridization, Nuclear organization, Gene expression, Microscopy
Training Rats to Voluntarily Dive Underwater: Investigations of the Mammalian Diving Response
Institutions: Midwestern University.
Underwater submergence produces autonomic changes that are observed in virtually all diving animals. This reflexly-induced response consists of apnea, a parasympathetically-induced bradycardia and a sympathetically-induced alteration of vascular resistance that maintains blood flow to the heart, brain and exercising muscles. While many of the metabolic and cardiorespiratory aspects of the diving response have been studied in marine animals, investigations of the central integrative aspects of this brainstem reflex have been relatively lacking. Because the physiology and neuroanatomy of the rat are well characterized, the rat can be used to help ascertain the central pathways of the mammalian diving response. Detailed instructions are provided on how to train rats to swim and voluntarily dive underwater through a 5 m long Plexiglas maze. Considerations regarding tank design and procedure room requirements are also given. The behavioral training is conducted in such a way as to reduce the stressfulness that could otherwise be associated with forced underwater submergence, thus minimizing activation of central stress pathways. The training procedures are not technically difficult, but they can be time-consuming. Since behavioral training of animals can only provide a model to be used with other experimental techniques, examples of how voluntarily diving rats have been used in conjunction with other physiological and neuroanatomical research techniques, and how the basic training procedures may need to be modified to accommodate these techniques, are also provided. These experiments show that voluntarily diving rats exhibit the same cardiorespiratory changes typically seen in other diving animals. The ease with which rats can be trained to voluntarily dive underwater, and the already available data from rats collected in other neurophysiological studies, makes voluntarily diving rats a good behavioral model to be used in studies investigating the central aspects of the mammalian diving response.
Behavior, Issue 93, Rat, Rattus norvegicus, voluntary diving, diving response, diving reflex, autonomic reflex, central integration
DiI-Labeling of DRG Neurons to Study Axonal Branching in a Whole Mount Preparation of Mouse Embryonic Spinal Cord
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Here we present a technique to label the trajectories of small groups of DRG neurons into the embryonic spinal cord by diffusive staining using the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)1
. The comparison of axonal pathways of wild-type with those of mouse lines in which genes are mutated allows testing for a functional role of candidate proteins in the control of axonal branching which is an essential mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system. Axonal branching enables an individual neuron to connect with multiple targets, thereby providing the physical basis for the parallel processing of information. Ramifications at intermediate target regions of axonal growth may be distinguished from terminal arborization. Furthermore, different modes of axonal branch formation may be classified depending on whether branching results from the activities of the growth cone (splitting or delayed branching) or from the budding of collaterals from the axon shaft in a process called interstitial branching2
The central projections of neurons from the DRG offer a useful experimental system to study both types of axonal branching: when their afferent axons reach the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) of the spinal cord between embryonic days 10 to 13 (E10 - E13) they display a stereotyped pattern of T- or Y-shaped bifurcation. The two resulting daughter axons then proceed in rostral or caudal directions, respectively, at the dorsolateral margin of the cord and only after a waiting period collaterals sprout from these stem axons to penetrate the gray matter (interstitial branching) and project to relay neurons in specific laminae of the spinal cord where they further arborize (terminal branching)3
. DiI tracings have revealed growth cones at the dorsal root entry zone of the spinal cord that appeared to be in the process of splitting suggesting that bifurcation is caused by splitting of the growth cone itself4
), however, other options have been discussed as well5
This video demonstrates first how to dissect the spinal cord of E12.5 mice leaving the DRG attached. Following fixation of the specimen tiny amounts of DiI are applied to DRG using glass needles pulled from capillary tubes. After an incubation step, the labeled spinal cord is mounted as an inverted open-book preparation to analyze individual axons using fluorescence microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, neurons, axonal branching, DRG, Spinal cord, DiI labeling, cGMP signaling
Retrograde Fluorescent Labeling Allows for Targeted Extracellular Single-unit Recording from Identified Neurons In vivo
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis , Nagoya University, Washington University in St. Louis .
The overall goal of this method is to record single-unit responses from an identified population of neurons. In vivo
electrophysiological recordings from individual neurons are critical for understanding how neural circuits function under natural conditions. Traditionally, these recordings have been performed 'blind', meaning the identity of the recorded cell is unknown at the start of the recording. Cellular identity can be subsequently determined via intracellular1
iontophoresis of dye, but these recordings cannot be pre-targeted to specific neurons in regions with functionally heterogeneous cell types. Fluorescent proteins can be expressed in a cell-type specific manner permitting visually-guided single-cell electrophysiology4-6
. However, there are many model systems for which these genetic tools are not available. Even in genetically accessible model systems, the desired promoter may be unknown or genetically homogenous neurons may have varying projection patterns. Similarly, viral vectors have been used to label specific subgroups of projection neurons7
, but use of this method is limited by toxicity and lack of trans-synaptic specificity. Thus, additional techniques that offer specific pre-visualization to record from identified single neurons in vivo
are needed. Pre-visualization of the target neuron is particularly useful for challenging recording conditions, for which classical single-cell recordings are often prohibitively difficult8-11
. The novel technique described in this paper uses retrograde transport of a fluorescent dye applied using tungsten needles to rapidly and selectively label a specific subset of cells within a particular brain region based on their unique axonal projections, thereby providing a visual cue to obtain targeted electrophysiological recordings from identified neurons in an intact circuit within a vertebrate CNS.
The most significant novel advancement of our method is the use of fluorescent labeling to target specific cell types in a non-genetically accessible model system. Weakly electric fish are an excellent model system for studying neural circuits in awake, behaving animals12
. We utilized this technique to study sensory processing by "small cells" in the anterior exterolateral nucleus (ELa) of weakly electric mormyrid fish. "Small cells" are hypothesized to be time comparator neurons important for detecting submillisecond differences in the arrival times of presynaptic spikes13
. However, anatomical features such as dense myelin, engulfing synapses, and small cell bodies have made it extremely difficult to record from these cells using traditional methods11, 14
. Here we demonstrate that our novel method selectively labels these cells in 28% of preparations, allowing for reliable, robust recordings and characterization of responses to electrosensory stimulation.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Physiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Fluorescent imaging, weakly electric fish, sensory processing, tract-tracing, electrophysiology, neuron, individual axons, labeling, injection, surgery, recording, mormyrids, animal model
Revealing Neural Circuit Topography in Multi-Color
Institutions: Yeshiva University.
Neural circuits are organized into functional topographic maps. In order to visualize complex circuit architecture we developed an approach to reliably label the global patterning of multiple topographic projections. The cerebellum is an ideal model to study the orderly arrangement of neural circuits. For example, the compartmental organization of spinocerebellar mossy fibers has proven to be an indispensable system for studying mossy fiber patterning. We recently showed that wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) conjugated to Alexa 555 and 488 can be used for tracing spinocerebellar mossy fiber projections in developing and adult mice (Reeber et al. 2011). We found three major properties that make the WGA-Alexa tracers desirable tools for labeling neural projections. First, Alexa fluorophores are intense and their brightness allows for wholemount imaging directly after tracing. Second, WGA-Alexa tracers label the entire trajectory of developing and adult neural projections. Third, WGA-Alexa tracers are rapidly transported in both retrograde and anterograde directions. Here, we describe in detail how to prepare the tracers and other required tools, how to perform the surgery for spinocerebellar tracing and how best to image traced projections in three dimensions. In summary, we provide a step-by-step tracing protocol that will be useful for deciphering the organization and connectivity of functional maps not only in the cerebellum but also in the cortex, brainstem, and spinal cord.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, neuronal projections, topography, circuits, connectivity, fluorescent tracers, mice
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Selective Tracing of Auditory Fibers in the Avian Embryonic Vestibulocochlear Nerve
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
The embryonic chick is a widely used model for the study of peripheral and central ganglion cell projections. In the auditory system, selective labeling of auditory axons within the VIIIth cranial nerve would enhance the study of central auditory circuit development. This approach is challenging because multiple sensory organs of the inner ear contribute to the VIIIth nerve 1
. Moreover, markers that reliably distinguish auditory versus vestibular groups of axons within the avian VIIIth nerve have yet to be identified. Auditory and vestibular pathways cannot be distinguished functionally in early embryos, as sensory-evoked responses are not present before the circuits are formed. Centrally projecting VIIIth nerve axons have been traced in some studies, but auditory axon labeling was accompanied by labeling from other VIIIth nerve components 2,3
. Here, we describe a method for anterograde tracing from the acoustic ganglion to selectively label auditory axons within the developing VIIIth nerve. First, after partial dissection of the anterior cephalic region of an 8-day chick embryo immersed in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid, the cochlear duct is identified by anatomical landmarks. Next, a fine pulled glass micropipette is positioned to inject a small amount of rhodamine dextran amine into the duct and adjacent deep region where the acoustic ganglion cells are located. Within thirty minutes following the injection, auditory axons are traced centrally into the hindbrain and can later be visualized following histologic preparation. This method provides a useful tool for developmental studies of peripheral to central auditory circuit formation.
Neurobiology, Issue 73, Neuroscience, Behavior, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Development, Inner Ear, Cochlea, Auditory, Chick, Axon Tracing, VIIIth Cranial Nerve, nerve, ganglion, fiber, cochlear duct, basilar papilla, embryo, microinjection, animal model
BioMEMS: Forging New Collaborations Between Biologists and Engineers
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
This video describes the fabrication and use of a microfluidic device to culture central nervous system (CNS) neurons. This device is compatible with live-cell optical microscopy (DIC and phase contrast), as well as confocal and two photon microscopy approaches. This method uses precision-molded polymer parts to create miniature multi-compartment cell culture with fluidic isolation. The compartments are made of tiny channels with dimensions that are large enough to culture neurons in well-controlled fluidic microenvironments. Neurons can be cultured for 2-3 weeks within the device, after which they can be fixed and stained for immunocytochemistry. Axonal and somal compartments can be maintained fluidically isolated from each other by using a small hydrostatic pressure difference; this feature can be used to localize soluble insults to one compartment for up to 20 h after each medium change. Fluidic isolation enables collection of pure axonal fraction and biochemical analysis by PCR. The microfluidic device provides a highly adaptable platform for neuroscience research and may find applications in modeling CNS injury and neurodegeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 9, Microfluidics, Bioengineering, Neuron
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells by Application of Fluoro-Gold on the Surface of Superior Colliculus
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong - HKU.
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) counting is essential to evaluate retinal degeneration especially in glaucoma. Reliable RGC labeling is fundamental for evaluating the effects of any treatment. In rat, about 98% of RGCs is known to project to the contralateral superior colliculus (SC) (Forrester and Peters, 1967). Applying fluoro-gold (FG) on the surface of SC can label almost all the RGCs, so that we can focus on this most vulnerable retinal neuron in glaucoma. FG is taken up by the axon terminals of retinal ganglion cells and bilaterally transported retrogradely to its somas in the retina. Compare with retrograde labeling of RGC by putting FG at stump of transected optic nerve for 2 days, the interference of RGC survival is minimized. Compare with cresyl violet staining that stains RGCs, amacrine cells and endothelium of the blood vessel in the retinal ganglion cell layer, this labeling method is more specific to the RGC. This video describes the method of retrograde labeling of RGC by applying FG on the surface of SC. The surgical procedures include drilling the skull; aspirating the cortex to expose the SC and applying gelatin sponge over entire dorsal surface of SC are shown. Useful tips for avoiding massive intracranial bleeding and aspiration of the SC have been given.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, Retrograde labeling, retinal ganglion cells, ophthalmology research, superior colliculus, experimental glaucoma