Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Automated Sholl Analysis of Digitized Neuronal Morphology at Multiple Scales
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Neuronal morphology plays a significant role in determining how neurons function and communicate1-3
. Specifically, it affects the ability of neurons to receive inputs from other cells2
and contributes to the propagation of action potentials4,5
. The morphology of the neurites also affects how information is processed. The diversity of dendrite morphologies facilitate local and long range signaling and allow individual neurons or groups of neurons to carry out specialized functions within the neuronal network6,7
. Alterations in dendrite morphology, including fragmentation of dendrites and changes in branching patterns, have been observed in a number of disease states, including Alzheimer's disease8
, and mental retardation11
. The ability to both understand the factors that shape dendrite morphologies and to identify changes in dendrite morphologies is essential in the understanding of nervous system function and dysfunction.
Neurite morphology is often analyzed by Sholl analysis and by counting the number of neurites and the number of branch tips. This analysis is generally applied to dendrites, but it can also be applied to axons. Performing this analysis by hand is both time consuming and inevitably introduces variability due to experimenter bias and inconsistency. The Bonfire program is a semi-automated approach to the analysis of dendrite and axon morphology that builds upon available open-source morphological analysis tools. Our program enables the detection of local changes in dendrite and axon branching behaviors by performing Sholl analysis on subregions of the neuritic arbor. For example, Sholl analysis is performed on both the neuron as a whole as well as on each subset of processes (primary, secondary, terminal, root, etc.) Dendrite and axon patterning is influenced by a number of intracellular and extracellular factors, many acting locally. Thus, the resulting arbor morphology is a result of specific processes acting on specific neurites, making it necessary to perform morphological analysis on a smaller scale in order to observe these local variations12
The Bonfire program requires the use of two open-source analysis tools, the NeuronJ plugin to ImageJ and NeuronStudio. Neurons are traced in ImageJ, and NeuronStudio is used to define the connectivity between neurites. Bonfire contains a number of custom scripts written in MATLAB (MathWorks) that are used to convert the data into the appropriate format for further analysis, check for user errors, and ultimately perform Sholl analysis. Finally, data are exported into Excel for statistical analysis. A flow chart of the Bonfire program is shown in Figure 1
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Sholl Analysis, Neurite, Morphology, Computer-assisted, Tracing
Neural Explant Cultures from Xenopus laevis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
The complex process of axon guidance is largely driven by the growth cone, which is the dynamic motile structure at the tip of the growing axon. During axon outgrowth, the growth cone must integrate multiple sources of guidance cue information to modulate its cytoskeleton in order to propel the growth cone forward and accurately navigate to find its specific targets1
. How this integration occurs at the cytoskeletal level is still emerging, and examination of cytoskeletal protein and effector dynamics within the growth cone can allow the elucidation of these mechanisms. Xenopus laevis
growth cones are large enough (10-30 microns in diameter) to perform high-resolution live imaging of cytoskeletal dynamics (e.g.2-4
) and are easy to isolate and manipulate in a lab setting compared to other vertebrates. The frog is a classic model system for developmental neurobiology studies, and important early insights into growth cone microtubule dynamics were initially found using this system5-7
. In this method8
, eggs are collected and fertilized in vitro
, injected with RNA encoding fluorescently tagged cytoskeletal fusion proteins or other constructs to manipulate gene expression, and then allowed to develop to the neural tube stage. Neural tubes are isolated by dissection and then are cultured, and growth cones on outgrowing neurites are imaged. In this article, we describe how to perform this method, the goal of which is to culture Xenopus laevis
growth cones for subsequent high-resolution image analysis. While we provide the example of +TIP fusion protein EB1-GFP, this method can be applied to any number of proteins to elucidate their behaviors within the growth cone.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Growth cone, neural explant, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging, cytoskeletal dynamics, cell culture
A Functional Motor Unit in the Culture Dish: Co-culture of Spinal Cord Explants and Muscle Cells
Institutions: University of Basel.
Human primary muscle cells cultured aneurally in monolayer rarely contract spontaneously because, in the absence of a nerve component, cell differentiation is limited and motor neuron stimulation is missing1
. These limitations hamper the in vitro
study of many neuromuscular diseases in cultured muscle cells. Importantly, the experimental constraints of monolayered, cultured muscle cells can be overcome by functional innervation of myofibers with spinal cord explants in co-cultures.
Here, we show the different steps required to achieve an efficient, proper innervation of human primary muscle cells, leading to complete differentiation and fiber contraction according to the method developed by Askanas2
. To do so, muscle cells are co-cultured with spinal cord explants of rat embryos at ED 13.5, with the dorsal root ganglia still attached to the spinal cord slices. After a few days, the muscle fibers start to contract and eventually become cross-striated through innervation by functional neurites projecting from the spinal cord explants that connecting to the muscle cells. This structure can be maintained for many months, simply by regular exchange of the culture medium.
The applications of this invaluable tool are numerous, as it represents a functional model for multidisciplinary analyses of human muscle development and innervation. In fact, a complete de novo
neuromuscular junction installation occurs in a culture dish, allowing an easy measurement of many parameters at each step, in a fundamental and physiological context.
Just to cite a few examples, genomic and/or proteomic studies can be performed directly on the co-cultures. Furthermore, pre- and post-synaptic effects can be specifically and separately assessed at the neuromuscular junction, because both components come from different species, rat and human, respectively. The nerve-muscle co-culture can also be performed with human muscle cells isolated from patients suffering from muscle or neuromuscular diseases3
, and thus can be used as a screening tool for candidate drugs. Finally, no special equipment but a regular BSL2 facility is needed to reproduce a functional motor unit in a culture dish. This method thus is valuable for both the muscle as well as the neuromuscular research communities for physiological and mechanistic studies of neuromuscular function, in a normal and disease context.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Human primary muscle cells, embryonic spinal cord explants, neurites, innervation, contraction, cell culture
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
Live Imaging of Dorsal Root Axons after Rhizotomy
Institutions: Shriners Hospitals Pediatric Research Center and Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital, Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
The primary sensory axons injured by spinal root injuries fail to regenerate into the spinal cord, leading to chronic pain and permanent sensory loss. Regeneration of dorsal root (DR) axons into spinal cord is prevented at the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ), the interface between the CNS and PNS. Our understanding of the molecular and cellular events that prevent regeneration at DREZ is incomplete, in part because complex changes associated with nerve injury have been deduced from postmortem analyses. Dynamic cellular processes, such as axon regeneration, are best studied with techniques that capture real-time events with multiple observations of each living animal. Our ability to monitor neurons serially in vivo
has increased dramatically owing to revolutionary innovations in optics and mouse transgenics. Several lines of thy1-GFP transgenic mice, in which subsets of neurons are genetically labeled in distinct fluorescent colors, permit individual neurons to be imaged in vivo1
. These mice have been used extensively for in vivo
imaging of muscle2-4
, and have provided novel insights into physiological mechanisms that static analyses could not have resolved. Imaging studies of neurons in living spinal cord have only recently begun. Lichtman and his colleagues first demonstrated their feasibility by tracking injured dorsal column (DC) axons with wide-field microscopy8,9
. Multi-photon in vivo
imaging of deeply positioned DC axons, microglia and blood vessels has also been accomplished10
. Over the last few years, we have pioneered in applying in vivo
imaging to monitor regeneration of DR axons using wide-field microscopy and H line of thy1-YFP mice. These studies have led us to a novel hypothesis about why DR axons are prevented from regenerating within the spinal cord11
In H line of thy1-YFP mice, distinct YFP+ axons are superficially positioned, which allows several axons to be monitored simultaneously. We have learned that DR axons arriving at DREZ are better imaged in lumbar than in cervical spinal cord. In the present report we describe several strategies that we have found useful to assure successful long-term and repeated imaging of regenerating DR axons. These include methods that eliminate repeated intubation and respiratory interruption, minimize surgery-associated stress and scar formation, and acquire stable images at high resolution without phototoxicity.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, in vivo imaging, dorsal root injury, wide field fluorescence microscope, laminectomy, spinal cord, Green fluorescence protein, transgenic mice, dorsal root ganglion, spinal root injury
Dissection and Culture of Mouse Dopaminergic and Striatal Explants in Three-Dimensional Collagen Matrix Assays
Institutions: University Medical Center Utrecht.
Midbrain dopamine (mdDA) neurons project via the medial forebrain bundle towards several areas in the telencephalon, including the striatum1
. Reciprocally, medium spiny neurons in the striatum that give rise to the striatonigral (direct) pathway innervate the substantia nigra2
. The development of these axon tracts is dependent upon the combinatorial actions of a plethora of axon growth and guidance cues including molecules that are released by neurites or by (intermediate) target regions3,4
. These soluble factors can be studied in vitro
by culturing mdDA and/or striatal explants in a collagen matrix which provides a three-dimensional substrate for the axons mimicking the extracellular environment. In addition, the collagen matrix allows for the formation of relatively stable gradients of proteins released by other explants or cells placed in the vicinity (e.g. see references 5 and 6). Here we describe methods for the purification of rat tail collagen, microdissection of dopaminergic and striatal explants, their culture in collagen gels and subsequent immunohistochemical and quantitative analysis. First, the brains of E14.5 mouse embryos are isolated and dopaminergic and striatal explants are microdissected. These explants are then (co)cultured in collagen gels on coverslips for 48 to 72 hours in vitro
. Subsequently, axonal projections are visualized using neuronal markers (e.g. tyrosine hydroxylase, DARPP32, or βIII tubulin) and axon growth and attractive or repulsive axon responses are quantified. This neuronal preparation is a useful tool for in vitro
studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of mesostriatal and striatonigral axon growth and guidance during development. Using this assay, it is also possible to assess other (intermediate) targets for dopaminergic and striatal axons or to test specific molecular cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Axon guidance, collagen matrix, development, dissection, dopamine, medium spiny neuron, rat tail collagen, striatum, striatonigral, mesostriatal
Setting Limits on Supersymmetry Using Simplified Models
Institutions: University College London, CERN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Experimental limits on supersymmetry and similar theories are difficult to set because of the enormous available parameter space and difficult to generalize because of the complexity of single points. Therefore, more phenomenological, simplified models are becoming popular for setting experimental limits, as they have clearer physical interpretations. The use of these simplified model limits to set a real limit on a concrete theory has not, however, been demonstrated. This paper recasts simplified model limits into limits on a specific and complete supersymmetry model, minimal supergravity. Limits obtained under various physical assumptions are comparable to those produced by directed searches. A prescription is provided for calculating conservative and aggressive limits on additional theories. Using acceptance and efficiency tables along with the expected and observed numbers of events in various signal regions, LHC experimental results can be recast in this manner into almost any theoretical framework, including nonsupersymmetric theories with supersymmetry-like signatures.
Physics, Issue 81, high energy physics, particle physics, Supersymmetry, LHC, ATLAS, CMS, New Physics Limits, Simplified Models
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
Simulating Pancreatic Neuroplasticity: In Vitro Dual-neuron Plasticity Assay
Institutions: Technische Universität München, University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern/Zweibrücken.
Neuroplasticity is an inherent feature of the enteric nervous system and gastrointestinal (GI) innervation under pathological conditions. However, the pathophysiological role of neuroplasticity in GI disorders remains unknown. Novel experimental models which allow simulation and modulation of GI neuroplasticity may enable enhanced appreciation of the contribution of neuroplasticity in particular GI diseases such as pancreatic cancer (PCa) and chronic pancreatitis (CP). Here, we present a protocol for simulation of pancreatic neuroplasticity under in vitro
conditions using newborn rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and myenteric plexus (MP) neurons. This dual-neuron approach not only permits monitoring of both organ-intrinsic and -extrinsic neuroplasticity, but also represents a valuable tool to assess neuronal and glial morphology and electrophysiology. Moreover, it allows functional modulation of supplied microenvironmental contents for studying their impact on neuroplasticity. Once established, the present neuroplasticity assay bears the potential of being applicable to the study of neuroplasticity in any GI organ.
Medicine, Issue 86, Autonomic Nervous System Diseases, Digestive System Neoplasms, Gastrointestinal Diseases, Pancreatic Diseases, Pancreatic Neoplasms, Pancreatitis, Pancreatic neuroplasticity, dorsal root ganglia, myenteric plexus, Morphometry, neurite density, neurite branching, perikaryonal hypertrophy, neuronal plasticity
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
Isolation and Culture of Dissociated Sensory Neurons From Chick Embryos
Institutions: Assumption College.
Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo
can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro
can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, dorsal root gangia, DRG, chicken, in vitro, avian, laminin-1, embryonic, primary
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
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
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Ex vivo Culturing of Whole, Developing Drosophila Brains
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.
We describe a method for ex vivo
culturing of whole Drosophila
brains. This can be used as a counterpoint to chronic genetic manipulations for investigating the cell biology and development of central brain structures by allowing acute pharmacological interventions and live imaging of cellular processes. As an example of the technique, prior work from our lab1
has shown that a previously unrecognized subcellular compartment lies between the axonal and somatodendritic compartments of axons of the Drosophila
central brain. The development of this compartment, referred to as the axon initial segment (AIS)2
, was shown genetically to depend on the neuron-specific cyclin-dependent kinase, Cdk5. We show here that ex vivo
treatment of wild-type Drosophila
larval brains with the Cdk5-specific pharmacological inhibitors roscovitine and olomoucine3
causes acute changes in actin organization, and in localization of the cell-surface protein Fasciclin 2, that mimic the changes seen in mutants that lack Cdk5 activity genetically.
A second example of the ex vivo
culture technique is provided for remodeling of the connections of embryonic mushroom body (MB) gamma neurons during metamorphosis from larva to adult. The mushroom body is the center of olfactory learning and memory in the fly4
, and these gamma neurons prune their axonal and dendritic branches during pupal development and then re-extend branches at a later timepoint to establish the adult innervation pattern5
. Pruning of these neurons of the MB has been shown to occur via local degeneration of neurite branches6
, by a mechanism that is triggered by ecdysone, a steroid hormone, acting at the ecdysone receptor B17
, and that is dependent on the activity of the ubiquitin-proteasome system6
. Our method of ex vivo
culturing can be used to interrogate further the mechanism of developmental remodeling. We found that in the ex vivo
culture setting, gamma neurons of the MB recapitulated the process of developmental pruning with a time course similar to that in vivo
. It was essential, however, to wait until 1.5 hours after puparium formation before explanting the tissue in order for the cells to commit irreversibly to metamorphosis; dissection of animals at the onset of pupariation led to little or no metamorphosis in culture. Thus, with appropriate modification, the ex vivo
culture approach can be applied to study dynamic as well as steady state aspects of central brain biology.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Drosophila, mushroom body, ex vivo, organ culture, pruning, pharmacology
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
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation