In vitro study of primary neuronal cultures allows for quantitative analyses of neurite outgrowth. In order to study how genetic alterations affect neuronal process outgrowth, shRNA or cDNA constructs can be introduced into primary neurons via chemical transfection or viral transduction. However, with primary cortical cells, a heterogeneous pool of cell types (glutamatergic neurons from different layers, inhibitory neurons, glial cells) are transfected using these methods. The use of in utero electroporation to introduce DNA constructs in the embryonic rodent cortex allows for certain subsets of cells to be targeted: while electroporation of early embryonic cortex targets deep layers of the cortex, electroporation at late embryonic timepoints targets more superficial layers. Further, differential placement of electrodes across the heads of individual embryos results in the targeting of dorsal-medial versus ventral-lateral regions of the cortex. Following electroporation, transfected cells can be dissected out, dissociated, and plated in vitro for quantitative analysis of neurite outgrowth. Here, we provide a step-by-step method to quantitatively measure neuronal process outgrowth in subsets of cortical cells.
The basic protocol for in utero electroporation has been described in detail in two other JoVE articles from the Kriegstein lab 1, 2. We will provide an overview of our protocol for in utero electroporation, focusing on the most important details, followed by a description of our protocol that applies in utero electroporation to the study of gene function in neuronal process outgrowth.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
Measurement of Tension Release During Laser Induced Axon Lesion to Evaluate Axonal Adhesion to the Substrate at Piconewton and Millisecond Resolution
Institutions: National Research Council of Italy, Università di Firenze, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The formation of functional connections in a developing neuronal network is influenced by extrinsic cues. The neurite growth of developing neurons is subject to chemical and mechanical signals, and the mechanisms by which it senses and responds to mechanical signals are poorly understood. Elucidating the role of forces in cell maturation will enable the design of scaffolds that can promote cell adhesion and cytoskeletal coupling to the substrate, and therefore improve the capacity of different neuronal types to regenerate after injury.
Here, we describe a method to apply simultaneous force spectroscopy measurements during laser induced cell lesion. We measure tension release in the partially lesioned axon by simultaneous interferometric tracking of an optically trapped probe adhered to the membrane of the axon. Our experimental protocol detects the tension release with piconewton sensitivity, and the dynamic of the tension release at millisecond time resolution. Therefore, it offers a high-resolution method to study how the mechanical coupling between cells and substrates can be modulated by pharmacological treatment and/or by distinct mechanical properties of the substrate.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Biophysics, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering (General), Life Sciences (General), Physics (General), Axon, tension release, Laser dissector, optical tweezers, force spectroscopy, neurons, neurites, cytoskeleton, adhesion, cell culture, microscopy
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
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
Genetic Manipulation of Cerebellar Granule Neurons In Vitro and In Vivo to Study Neuronal Morphology and Migration
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine, Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain (CNMPB).
Developmental events in the brain including neuronal morphogenesis and migration are highly orchestrated processes. In vitro
and in vivo
analyses allow for an in-depth characterization to identify pathways involved in these events. Cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) that are derived from the developing cerebellum are an ideal model system that allows for morphological analyses. Here, we describe a method of how to genetically manipulate CGNs and how to study axono- and dendritogenesis of individual neurons. With this method the effects of RNA interference, overexpression or small molecules can be compared to control neurons. In addition, the rodent cerebellar cortex is an easily accessible in vivo
system owing to its predominant postnatal development. We also present an in vivo
electroporation technique to genetically manipulate the developing cerebella and describe subsequent cerebellar analyses to assess neuronal morphology and migration.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, axons, dendrites, neuronal migration, cerebellum, cultured neurons, transfection, in vivo electroporation
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Live Imaging of Mitosis in the Developing Mouse Embryonic Cortex
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center.
Although of short duration, mitosis is a complex and dynamic multi-step process fundamental for development of organs including the brain. In the developing cerebral cortex, abnormal mitosis of neural progenitors can cause defects in brain size and function. Hence, there is a critical need for tools to understand the mechanisms of neural progenitor mitosis. Cortical development in rodents is an outstanding model for studying this process. Neural progenitor mitosis is commonly examined in fixed brain sections. This protocol will describe in detail an approach for live imaging of mitosis in ex vivo
embryonic brain slices. We will describe the critical steps for this procedure, which include: brain extraction, brain embedding, vibratome sectioning of brain slices, staining and culturing of slices, and time-lapse imaging. We will then demonstrate and describe in detail how to perform post-acquisition analysis of mitosis. We include representative results from this assay using the vital dye Syto11, transgenic mice (histone H2B-EGFP and centrin-EGFP), and in utero
electroporation (mCherry-α-tubulin). We will discuss how this procedure can be best optimized and how it can be modified for study of genetic regulation of mitosis. Live imaging of mitosis in brain slices is a flexible approach to assess the impact of age, anatomy, and genetic perturbation in a controlled environment, and to generate a large amount of data with high temporal and spatial resolution. Hence this protocol will complement existing tools for analysis of neural progenitor mitosis.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, mitosis, radial glial cells, developing cortex, neural progenitors, brain slice, live imaging
Preparation of Neuronal Co-cultures with Single Cell Precision
Institutions: ISAS, University College London, University of Southampton.
Microfluidic embodiments of the Campenot chamber have attracted great interest from the neuroscience community. These interconnected co-culture platforms can be used to investigate a variety of questions, spanning developmental and functional neurobiology to infection and disease propagation. However, conventional systems require significant cellular inputs (many thousands per compartment), inadequate for studying low abundance cells, such as primary dopaminergic substantia nigra,
spiral ganglia, and Drosophilia melanogaster
neurons, and impractical for high throughput experimentation. The dense cultures are also highly locally entangled, with few outgrowths (<10%) interconnecting the two cultures. In this paper straightforward microfluidic and patterning protocols are described which address these challenges: (i) a microfluidic single neuron arraying method, and (ii) a water masking method for plasma patterning biomaterial coatings to register neurons and promote outgrowth between compartments. Minimalistic neuronal co-cultures were prepared with high-level (>85%) intercompartment connectivity and can be used for high throughput neurobiology experiments with single cell precision.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, microfluidic arraying, single cell, biomaterial patterning, co-culture, compartmentalization, Alzheimer and Parkinson Diseases, neurite outgrowth, high throughput screening
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
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
Ex utero Electroporation and Whole Hemisphere Explants: A Simple Experimental Method for Studies of Early Cortical Development
Institutions: SUNY Upstate Medical University.
Cortical development involves complex interactions between neurons and non-neuronal elements including precursor cells, blood vessels, meninges and associated extracellular matrix. Because they provide a suitable organotypic environment, cortical slice explants are often used to investigate those interactions that control neuronal differentiation and development. Although beneficial, the slice explant model can suffer from drawbacks including aberrant cellular lamination and migration. Here we report a whole cerebral hemisphere explant system for studies of early cortical development that is easier to prepare than cortical slices and shows consistent organotypic migration and lamination. In this model system, early lamination and migration patterns proceed normally for a period of two days in vitro
, including the period of preplate splitting, during which prospective cortical layer six forms. We then developed an ex utero
electroporation (EUEP) approach that achieves ~80% success in targeting GFP expression to neurons developing in the dorsal medial cortex.
The whole hemisphere explant model makes early cortical development accessible for electroporation, pharmacological intervention and live imaging approaches. This method avoids the survival surgery required of in utero
electroporation (IUEP) approaches while improving both transfection and areal targeting consistency. This method will facilitate experimental studies of neuronal proliferation, migration and differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Genetics, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Tissue Engineering, preplate splitting, in vitro preparation, dendritogenesis, gene function assay, in utero electroporation, GFP, hemisphere explants, gene expression, plasmid, explant, tissue, cell culture, tissue culture, animal model
Generation of Stable Human Cell Lines with Tetracycline-inducible (Tet-on) shRNA or cDNA Expression
Institutions: UCL Cancer Institute, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research .
A major approach in the field of mammalian cell biology is the manipulation of the expression of genes of interest in selected cell lines, with the aim to reveal one or several of the gene's function(s) using transient/stable overexpression or knockdown of the gene of interest. Unfortunately, for various cell biological investigations this approach is unsuitable when manipulations of gene expression result in cell growth/proliferation defects or unwanted cell differentiation. Therefore, researchers have adapted the Tetracycline repressor protein (TetR), taken from the E. coli
tetracycline resistance operon1
, to generate very efficient and tight regulatory systems to express cDNAs in mammalian cells2,3
. In short, TetR has been modified to either (1) block initiation of transcription by binding to the Tet-operator (TO) in the promoter region upon addition of tetracycline (termed Tet-off system) or (2) bind to the TO in the absence of tetracycline (termed Tet-on system) (Figure 1
). Given the inconvenience that the Tet-off system requires the continuous presence of tetracycline (which has a half-life of about 24 hr in tissue cell culture medium) the Tet-on system has been more extensively optimized, resulting in the development of very tight and efficient vector systems for cDNA expression as used here.
Shortly after establishment of RNA interference (RNAi) for gene knockdown in mammalian cells4
, vectors expressing short-hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) were described that function very similar to siRNAs5-11
. However, these shRNA-mediated knockdown approaches have the same limitation as conventional knockout strategies, since stable depletion is not feasible when gene targets are essential for cellular survival. To overcome this limitation, van de Wetering et al
modified the shRNA expression vector pSUPER5
by inserting a TO in the promoter region, which enabled them to generate stable cell lines with tetracycline-inducible depletion of their target genes of interest.
Here, we describe a method to efficiently generate stable human Tet-on cell lines that reliably drive either inducible overexpression or depletion of the gene of interest. Using this method, we have successfully generated Tet-on cell lines which significantly facilitated the analysis of the MST/hMOB/NDR cascade in centrosome13,14
and apoptosis signaling15,16
. In this report, we describe our vectors of choice, in addition to describing the two consecutive manipulation steps that are necessary to efficiently generate human Tet-on cell lines (Figure 2
). Moreover, besides outlining a protocol for the generation of human Tet-on cell lines, we will discuss critical aspects regarding the technical procedures and the characterization of Tet-on cells.
Genetics, Issue 73, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Mammals, Proteins, Cell Biology, tissue culture, stable manipulation of cell lines, tetracycline regulated expression, cDNA, DNA, shRNA, vectors, tetracycline, promoter, expression, genes, clones, cell culture
Generation of Topically Transgenic Rats by In utero Electroporation and In vivo Bioluminescence Screening
Institutions: Medical School Düsseldorf, Weizmann Institute for Science, University of Düsseldorf.
electroporation (IUE) is a technique which allows genetic modification of cells in the brain for investigating neuronal development. So far, the use of IUE for investigating behavior or neuropathology in the adult brain has been limited by insufficient methods for monitoring of IUE transfection success by non-invasive techniques in postnatal animals.
For the present study, E16 rats were used for IUE. After intraventricular injection of the nucleic acids into the embryos, positioning of the tweezer electrodes was critical for targeting either the developing cortex or the hippocampus.
Ventricular co-injection and electroporation of a luciferase gene allowed monitoring of the transfected cells postnatally after intraperitoneal luciferin injection in the anesthetized live P7 pup by in vivo
bioluminescence, using an IVIS Spectrum device with 3D quantification software.
Area definition by bioluminescence could clearly differentiate between cortical and hippocampal electroporations and detect a signal longitudinally over time up to 5 weeks after birth. This imaging technique allowed us to select pups with a sufficient number of transfected cells assumed necessary for triggering biological effects and, subsequently, to perform behavioral investigations at 3 month of age. As an example, this study demonstrates that IUE with the human full length DISC1
gene into the rat cortex led to amphetamine hypersensitivity. Co-transfected GFP could be detected in neurons by post mortem
fluorescence microscopy in cryosections indicating gene expression present at ≥6 months after birth.
We conclude that postnatal bioluminescence imaging allows evaluating the success of transient transfections with IUE in rats. Investigations on the influence of topical gene manipulations during neurodevelopment on the adult brain and its connectivity are greatly facilitated. For many scientific questions, this technique can supplement or even replace the use of transgenic rats and provide a novel technology for behavioral neuroscience.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Hippocampus, Memory, Schizophrenia, In utero electroporation, in vivo bioluminescence imaging, Luciferase, Disrupted-in-schizophrenia-1 (DISC1)
A Neuronal and Astrocyte Co-Culture Assay for High Content Analysis of Neurotoxicity
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
High Content Analysis (HCA) assays combine cells and detection reagents with automated imaging and powerful image analysis algorithms, allowing measurement of multiple cellular phenotypes within a single assay. In this study, we utilized HCA to develop a novel assay for neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity assessment represents an important part of drug safety evaluation, as well as being a significant focus of environmental protection efforts. Additionally, neurotoxicity is also a well-accepted in vitro
marker of the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Recently, the application of HCA to neuronal screening has been reported. By labeling neuronal cells with βIII-tubulin, HCA assays can provide high-throughput, non-subjective, quantitative measurements of parameters such as neuronal number, neurite count and neurite length, all of which can indicate neurotoxic effects. However, the role of astrocytes remains unexplored in these models. Astrocytes have an integral role in the maintenance of central nervous system (CNS) homeostasis, and are associated with both neuroprotection and neurodegradation when they are activated in response to toxic substances or disease states. GFAP is an intermediate filament protein expressed predominantly in the astrocytes of the CNS. Astrocytic activation (gliosis) leads to the upregulation of GFAP, commonly accompanied by astrocyte proliferation and hypertrophy. This process of reactive gliosis has been proposed as an early marker of damage to the nervous system. The traditional method for GFAP quantitation is by immunoassay. This approach is limited by an inability to provide information on cellular localization, morphology and cell number. We determined that HCA could be used to overcome these limitations and to simultaneously measure multiple features associated with gliosis - changes in GFAP expression, astrocyte hypertrophy, and astrocyte proliferation - within a single assay. In co-culture studies, astrocytes have been shown to protect neurons against several types of toxic insult and to critically influence neuronal survival. Recent studies have suggested that the use of astrocytes in an in vitro
neurotoxicity test system may prove more relevant to human CNS structure and function than neuronal cells alone. Accordingly, we have developed an HCA assay for co-culture of neurons and astrocytes, comprised of protocols and validated, target-specific detection reagents for profiling βIII-tubulin and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). This assay enables simultaneous analysis of neurotoxicity, neurite outgrowth, gliosis, neuronal and astrocytic morphology and neuronal and astrocytic development in a wide variety of cellular models, representing a novel, non-subjective, high-throughput assay for neurotoxicity assessment. The assay holds great potential for enhanced detection of neurotoxicity and improved productivity in neuroscience research and drug discovery.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, high content screening, high content analysis, neurotoxicity, toxicity, drug discovery, neurite outgrowth, astrocytes, neurons, co-culture, immunofluorescence
Study Glial Cell Heterogeneity Influence on Axon Growth Using a New Coculture Method
Institutions: Cedars Sinai Medical Center, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical University, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical Univeristy.
In the central nervous system of all mammals, severed axons after injury are unable to regenerate to their original targets and functional recovery is very poor 1
. The failure of axon regeneration is a combined result of several factors including the hostile glial cell environment, inhibitory myelin related molecules and decreased intrinsic neuron regenerative capacity 2
. Astrocytes are the most predominant glial cell type in central nervous system and play important role in axon functions under physiology and pathology conditions 3
. Contrast to the homologous oligodendrocytes, astrocytes are a heterogeneous cell population composed by different astrocyte subpopulations with diverse morphologies and gene expression 4
. The functional significance of this heterogeneity, such as their influences on axon growth, is largely unknown.
To study the glial cell, especially the function of astrocyte heterogeneity in neuron behavior, we established a new method by co-culturing high purified dorsal root ganglia neurons with glial cells obtained from the rat cortex. By this technique, we were able to directly compare neuron adhesion and axon growth on different astrocytes subpopulations under the same condition.
In this report, we give the detailed protocol of this method for astrocytes isolation and culture, dorsal root ganglia neurons isolation and purification, and the co-culture of DRG neurons with astrocytes. This method could also be extended to other brain regions to study cellular or regional specific interaction between neurons and glial cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, Dorsal root ganglia, glial cell, heterogeneity, co-culture, regeneration, axon growth
Strategies for Study of Neuroprotection from Cold-preconditioning
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Neurological injury is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality from general anesthesia and related surgical procedures that could be alleviated by development of effective, easy to administer and safe preconditioning treatments. We seek to define the neural immune signaling responsible for cold-preconditioning as means to identify novel targets for therapeutics development to protect brain before injury onset. Low-level pro-inflammatory mediator signaling changes over time are essential for cold-preconditioning neuroprotection. This signaling is consistent with the basic tenets of physiological conditioning hormesis, which require that irritative stimuli reach a threshold magnitude with sufficient time for adaptation to the stimuli for protection to become evident.
Accordingly, delineation of the immune signaling involved in cold-preconditioning neuroprotection requires that biological systems and experimental manipulations plus technical capacities are highly reproducible and sensitive. Our approach is to use hippocampal slice cultures as an in vitro
model that closely reflects their in vivo
counterparts with multi-synaptic neural networks influenced by mature and quiescent macroglia / microglia. This glial state is particularly important for microglia since they are the principal source of cytokines, which are operative in the femtomolar range. Also, slice cultures can be maintained in vitro
for several weeks, which is sufficient time to evoke activating stimuli and assess adaptive responses. Finally, environmental conditions can be accurately controlled using slice cultures so that cytokine signaling of cold-preconditioning can be measured, mimicked, and modulated to dissect the critical node aspects. Cytokine signaling system analyses require the use of sensitive and reproducible multiplexed techniques. We use quantitative PCR for TNF-α to screen for microglial activation followed by quantitative real-time qPCR array screening to assess tissue-wide cytokine changes. The latter is a most sensitive and reproducible means to measure multiple cytokine system signaling changes simultaneously. Significant changes are confirmed with targeted qPCR and then protein detection. We probe for tissue-based cytokine protein changes using multiplexed microsphere flow cytometric assays using Luminex technology. Cell-specific cytokine production is determined with double-label immunohistochemistry. Taken together, this brain tissue preparation and style of use, coupled to the suggested investigative strategies, may be an optimal approach for identifying potential targets for the development of novel therapeutics that could mimic the advantages of cold-preconditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, hippocampus, slice culture, immunohistochemistry, neural-immune, gene expression, real-time PCR
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
High Content Screening in Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: VU University Medical Center, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam.
The functional annotation of genomes, construction of molecular networks and novel drug target identification, are important challenges that need to be addressed as a matter of great urgency1-4
. Multiple complementary 'omics' approaches have provided clues as to the genetic risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms underlying numerous neurodegenerative diseases, but most findings still require functional validation5
. For example, a recent genome wide association study for Parkinson's Disease (PD), identified many new loci as risk factors for the disease, but the underlying causative variant(s) or pathogenic mechanism is not known6, 7
. As each associated region can contain several genes, the functional evaluation of each of the genes on phenotypes associated with the disease, using traditional cell biology techniques would take too long.
There is also a need to understand the molecular networks that link genetic mutations to the phenotypes they cause. It is expected that disease phenotypes are the result of multiple interactions that have been disrupted. Reconstruction of these networks using traditional molecular methods would be time consuming. Moreover, network predictions from independent studies of individual components, the reductionism approach, will probably underestimate the network complexity8
. This underestimation could, in part, explain the low success rate of drug approval due to undesirable or toxic side effects. Gaining a network perspective of disease related pathways using HT/HC cellular screening approaches, and identifying key nodes within these pathways, could lead to the identification of targets that are more suited for therapeutic intervention.
High-throughput screening (HTS) is an ideal methodology to address these issues9-12
. but traditional methods were one dimensional whole-well cell assays, that used simplistic readouts for complex biological processes. They were unable to simultaneously quantify the many phenotypes observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as axonal transport deficits or alterations in morphology properties13, 14
. This approach could not be used to investigate the dynamic nature of cellular processes or pathogenic events that occur in a subset of cells. To quantify such features one has to move to multi-dimensional phenotypes termed high-content screening (HCS)4, 15-17
. HCS is the cell-based quantification of several processes simultaneously, which provides a more detailed representation of the cellular response to various perturbations compared to HTS.
HCS has many advantages over HTS18, 19
, but conducting a high-throughput (HT)-high-content (HC) screen in neuronal models is problematic due to high cost, environmental variation and human error. In order to detect cellular responses on a 'phenomics' scale using HC imaging one has to reduce variation and error, while increasing sensitivity and reproducibility.
Herein we describe a method to accurately and reliably conduct shRNA screens using automated cell culturing20
and HC imaging in neuronal cellular models. We describe how we have used this methodology to identify modulators for one particular protein, DJ1, which when mutated causes autosomal recessive parkinsonism21
Combining the versatility of HC imaging with HT methods, it is possible to accurately quantify a plethora of phenotypes. This could subsequently be utilized to advance our understanding of the genome, the pathways involved in disease pathogenesis as well as identify potential therapeutic targets.
Medicine, Issue 59, High-throughput screening, high-content screening, neurodegeneration, automated cell culturing, Parkinson’s disease
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
Methods for Study of Neuronal Morphogenesis: Ex vivo RNAi Electroporation in Embryonic Murine Cerebral Cortex
Institutions: Brown University , Brown University , Brown University .
The cerebral cortex directs higher cognitive functions. This six layered structure is generated in an inside-first, outside-last manner, in which the first born neurons remain closer to the ventricle while the last born neurons migrate past the first born neurons towards the surface of the brain1
. In addition to neuronal migration2
, a key process for normal cortical function is the regulation of neuronal morphogenesis3
. While neuronal morphogenesis can be studied in vitro
in primary cultures, there is much to be learned from how these processes are regulated in tissue environments.
We describe techniques to analyze neuronal migration and/or morphogenesis in organotypic slices of the cerebral cortex4,6
. A pSilencer modified vector is used which contains both a U6 promoter that drives the double stranded hairpin RNA and a separate expression cassette that encodes GFP protein driven by a CMV promoter7-9
. Our approach allows for the rapid assessment of defects in neurite outgrowth upon specific knockdown of candidate genes and has been successfully used in a screen for regulators of neurite outgrowth8
. Because only a subset of cells will express the RNAi constructs, the organotypic slices allow for a mosaic analysis of the potential phenotypes. Moreover, because this analysis is done in a near approximation of the in vivo
environment, it provides a low cost and rapid alternative to the generation of transgenic or knockout animals for genes of unknown cortical function. Finally, in comparison with in vivo
electroporation technology, the success of ex vivo
electroporation experiments is not dependant upon proficient surgery skill development and can be performed with a shorter training time and skill.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, electroporation, organotypic slices, RNAi, neurogenesis, neuronal migration, neuronal morphogenesis, brain
Visualization and Genetic Manipulation of Dendrites and Spines in the Mouse Cerebral Cortex and Hippocampus using In utero Electroporation
Institutions: MRC National Institute for Medical Research, National Institute for Medical Research, Université de Bordeaux.
In utero electroporation (IUE) has become a powerful technique to study the development of different regions of the embryonic nervous system 1-5
. To date this tool has been widely used to study the regulation of cellular proliferation, differentiation and neuronal migration especially in the developing cerebral cortex 6-8
. Here we detail our protocol to electroporate in utero the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus and provide evidence that this approach can be used to study dendrites and spines in these two cerebral regions.
Visualization and manipulation of neurons in primary cultures have contributed to a better understanding of the processes involved in dendrite, spine and synapse development. However neurons growing in vitro are not exposed to all the physiological cues that can affect dendrite and/or spine formation and maintenance during normal development. Our knowledge of dendrite and spine structures in vivo
in wild-type or mutant mice comes mostly from observations using the Golgi-Cox method 9
. However, Golgi staining is considered to be unpredictable. Indeed, groups of nerve cells and fiber tracts are labeled randomly, with particular areas often appearing completely stained while adjacent areas are devoid of staining. Recent studies have shown that IUE of fluorescent constructs represents an attractive alternative method to study dendrites, spines as well as synapses in mutant / wild-type mice 10-11
). Moreover in comparison to the generation of mouse knockouts, IUE represents a rapid approach to perform gain and loss of function studies in specific population of cells during a specific time window. In addition, IUE has been successfully used with inducible gene expression or inducible RNAi approaches to refine the temporal control over the expression of a gene or shRNA 12
. These advantages of IUE have thus opened new dimensions to study the effect of gene expression/suppression on dendrites and spines not only in specific cerebral structures (Figure 1B
) but also at a specific time point of development (Figure 1C
Finally, IUE provides a useful tool to identify functional interactions between genes involved in dendrite, spine and/or synapse development. Indeed, in contrast to other gene transfer methods such as virus, it is straightforward to combine multiple RNAi or transgenes in the same population of cells.
In summary, IUE is a powerful method that has already contributed to the characterization of molecular mechanisms underlying brain function and disease and it should also be useful in the study of dendrites and spines.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Neuronal development, In utero electroporation, dendrite, spines, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, gain and loss of function
Preparation of Cell-lines for Conditional Knockdown of Gene Expression and Measurement of the Knockdown Effects on E4orf4-Induced Cell Death
Institutions: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.
Functional inactivation of gene expression in mammalian cells is crucial for the study of the contribution of a protein of interest to various pathways1,2
. However, conditional knockdown of gene expression is required in cases when constitutive knockdown is not tolerated by cells for a long period of time3-5
. Here we describe a protocol for preparation of cell lines allowing conditional knockdown of subunits of the ACF chromatin remodeling factor. These cell lines facilitate the determination of the contribution of ACF to induction of cell death by the adenovirus E4orf4 protein6
. Sequences encoding short hairpin RNAs for the Acf1 and SNF2h subunits of the ACF chromatin remodeling factor were cloned next to a doxycycline-inducible promoter in a plasmid also containing a gene for the neomycin resistance gene. Neomycin-resistant cell clones were selected in the presence of G418 and isolated. The resulting cell lines were induced by doxycycline treatment, and once Acf1 or SNF2h expression levels were reduced, the cells were transfected with a plasmid encoding E4orf4 or an empty vector. To confirm the specific effect of the shRNA constructs, Acf1 or SNF2h protein levels were restored to WT levels by cotransfection with a plasmid expressing Acf1 or SNF2h which were rendered resistant to the shRNA by introduction of silent mutations. The ability of E4orf4 to induce cell death in the various samples was determined by a DAPI assay, in which the frequency of appearance of nuclei with apoptotic morphologies in the transfected cell population was measured7-9
The protocol described here can be utilized for determination of the functional contribution of various proteins to induction of cell death by their protein partners in cases when constitutive knockdown may be cell lethal.
Genetics, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Medicine, Cell death, adenovirus, E4orf4, DAPI assay, conditional knockdown, shRNA
In Utero Intraventricular Injection and Electroporation of E15 Mouse Embryos
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
In-utero in-vivo injection and electroporation of the embryonic mouse neocortex provides a powerful tool for the manipulation of individual progenitors lining the walls of the lateral ventricle. This technique is now widely used to study the processes involved in corticogenesis by over-expressing or knocking down genes and observing the effects on cellular proliferation, migration, and differentiation. In comparison to traditional knockout strategies, in-utero electroporation provides a rapid means to manipulate a population of cells during a specific temporal window. In this video protocol we outline the experimental methodology for preparing mice for surgery, exposing the uterine horns through laporatomy, injecting DNA into the lateral ventricles of the developing embryo, electroporating DNA into the progenitors lining the lateral wall, and caring for animals post-surgery. Our laboratory uses this protocol for surgeries on E13-E16 mice, however, it is most commonly performed at E15, as shown in this video.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Protocol, electroporation, Injection, Stem Cells, brain, transfection
In Utero Intraventricular Injection and Electroporation of E16 Rat Embryos
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
In-utero in-vivo injection and electroporation of the embryonic rat neocortex provides a powerful tool for the manipulation of individual progenitors lining the walls of the lateral ventricle. This technique is now widely used to study the processes involved in corticogenesis by over-expressing or knocking down genes and observing the effects on cellular proliferation, migration, and differentiation. In comparison to traditional knockout strategies, in-utero electroporation provides a rapid means to manipulate a population of cells during a specific temporal window. In this video protocol, we outline the experimental methodology for preparing rats for surgery, exposing the uterine horns through laporatomy, injecting DNA into the lateral ventricles of the developing embryo, electroporating DNA into the progenitors lining the lateral wall, and caring for animals post-surgery. Our laboratory uses this protocol for surgeries on E15-E21 rats, however it is most commonly performed at E16 as shown in this video.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Protocol, Stem Cells, Cerebral Cortex, Brain Development, Electroporation, Intra Uterine Injections, transfection