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 receptors (GABAARs) 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 GABAARs 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 GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR 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 GABAARs 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.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
Local Application of Drugs to Study Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Function in Mouse Brain Slices
Institutions: Purdue University.
Tobacco use leads to numerous health problems, including cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and stroke. Addiction to cigarette smoking is a prevalent neuropsychiatric disorder that stems from the biophysical and cellular actions of nicotine on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) throughout the central nervous system. Understanding the various nAChR subtypes that exist in brain areas relevant to nicotine addiction is a major priority.
Experiments that employ electrophysiology techniques such as whole-cell patch clamp or two-electrode voltage clamp recordings are useful for pharmacological characterization of nAChRs of interest. Cells expressing nAChRs, such as mammalian tissue culture cells or Xenopus laevis
oocytes, are physically isolated and are therefore easily studied using the tools of modern pharmacology. Much progress has been made using these techniques, particularly when the target receptor was already known and ectopic expression was easily achieved. Often, however, it is necessary to study nAChRs in their native environment: in neurons within brain slices acutely harvested from laboratory mice or rats. For example, mice expressing "hypersensitive" nAChR subunits such as α4 L9′A mice 1
and α6 L9′S mice 2
, allow for unambiguous identification of neurons based on their functional expression of a specific nAChR subunit. Although whole-cell patch clamp recordings from neurons in brain slices is routinely done by the skilled electrophysiologist, it is challenging to locally apply drugs such as acetylcholine or nicotine to the recorded cell within a brain slice. Dilution of drugs into the superfusate (bath application) is not rapidly reversible, and U-tube systems are not easily adapted to work with brain slices.
In this paper, we describe a method for rapidly applying nAChR-activating drugs to neurons recorded in adult mouse brain slices. Standard whole-cell recordings are made from neurons in slices, and a second micropipette filled with a drug of interest is maneuvered into position near the recorded cell. An injection of pressurized air or inert nitrogen into the drug-filled pipette causes a small amount of drug solution to be ejected from the pipette onto the recorded cell. Using this method, nAChR-mediated currents are able to be resolved with millisecond accuracy. Drug application times can easily be varied, and the drug-filled pipette can be retracted and replaced with a new pipette, allowing for concentration-response curves to be created for a single neuron. Although described in the context of nAChR neurobiology, this technique should be useful for studying many types of ligand-gated ion channels or receptors in neurons from brain slices.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Nicotinic, acetylcholine, neurotransmitter, neuron, patch clamp, brain slice, picospritzer
Comprehensive Profiling of Dopamine Regulation in Substantia Nigra and Ventral Tegmental Area
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
Dopamine is a vigorously studied neurotransmitter in the CNS. Indeed, its involvement in locomotor activity and reward-related behaviour has fostered five decades of inquiry into the molecular deficiencies associated with dopamine regulation. The majority of these inquiries of dopamine regulation in the brain focus upon the molecular basis for its regulation in the terminal field regions of the nigrostriatal and mesoaccumbens pathways; striatum and nucleus accumbens. Furthermore, such studies have concentrated on analysis of dopamine tissue content with normalization to only wet tissue weight. Investigation of the proteins that regulate dopamine, such as tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) protein, TH phosphorylation, dopamine transporter (DAT), and vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) protein often do not include analysis of dopamine tissue content in the same sample. The ability to analyze both dopamine tissue content and its regulating proteins (including post-translational modifications) not only gives inherent power to interpreting the relationship of dopamine with the protein level and function of TH, DAT, or VMAT2, but also extends sample economy. This translates into less cost, and yet produces insights into the molecular regulation of dopamine in virtually any paradigm of the investigators' choice.
We focus the analyses in the midbrain. Although the SN and VTA are typically neglected in most studies of dopamine regulation, these nuclei are easily dissected with practice. A comprehensive readout of dopamine tissue content and TH, DAT, or VMAT2 can be conducted. There is burgeoning literature on the impact of dopamine function in the SN and VTA on behavior, and the impingements of exogenous substances or disease processes therein 1-5
. Furthermore, compounds such as growth factors have a profound effect on dopamine and dopamine-regulating proteins, to a comparatively greater extent in the SN or VTA 6-8
. Therefore, this methodology is presented for reference to laboratories that want to extend their inquiries on how specific treatments modulate behaviour and dopamine regulation. Here, a multi-step method is presented for the analyses of dopamine tissue content, the protein levels of TH, DAT, or VMAT2, and TH phosphorylation from the substantia nigra and VTA from rodent midbrain. The analysis of TH phosphorylation can yield significant insights into not only how TH activity is regulated, but also the signaling cascades affected in the somatodendritic nuclei in a given paradigm.
We will illustrate the dissection technique to segregate these two nuclei and the sample processing of dissected tissue that produces a profile revealing molecular mechanisms of dopamine regulation in vivo,
specific for each nuclei (Figure 1)
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Medicine, Physiology, midbrain, substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, tyrosine hydroxylase, phosphorylation, nigrostriatal, mesoaccumbens, dopamine transporter
Determination of Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and Reactive Oxygen Species in Live Rat Cortical Neurons
Institutions: Loyola University Chicago.
Mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm) is critical for maintaining the physiological function of the respiratory chain to generate ATP. A significant loss of ΔΨm renders cells depleted of energy with subsequent death. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are important signaling molecules, but their accumulation in pathological conditions leads to oxidative stress. The two major sources of ROS in cells are environmental toxins and the process of oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress have been implicated in the pathophysiology of many diseases; therefore, the ability to determine ΔΨm and ROS can provide important clues about the physiological status of the cell and the function of the mitochondria.
Several fluorescent probes (Rhodamine 123, TMRM, TMRE, JC-1) can be used to determine Δψm in a variety of cell types, and many fluorescence indicators (Dihydroethidium, Dihydrorhodamine 123, H2
DCF-DA) can be used to determine ROS. Nearly all of the available fluorescence probes used to assess ΔΨm or ROS are single-wavelength indicators, which increase or decrease their fluorescence intensity proportional to a stimulus that increases or decreases the levels of ΔΨm or ROS. Thus, it is imperative to measure the fluorescence intensity of these probes at the baseline level and after the application of a specific stimulus. This allows one to determine the percentage of change in fluorescence intensity between the baseline level and a stimulus. This change in fluorescence intensity reflects the change in relative levels of ΔΨm or ROS. In this video, we demonstrate how to apply the fluorescence indicator, TMRM, in rat cortical neurons to determine the percentage change in TMRM fluorescence intensity between the baseline level and after applying FCCP, a mitochondrial uncoupler. The lower levels of TMRM fluorescence resulting from FCCP treatment reflect the depolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential. We also show how to apply the fluorescence probe H2
DCF-DA to assess the level of ROS in cortical neurons, first at baseline and then after application of H2
. This protocol (with minor modifications) can be also used to determine changes in ∆Ψm and ROS in different cell types and in neurons isolated from other brain regions.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Mitochondrial membrane potential, reactive oxygen species, neuroscience, cortical neurons
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
Primary Culture of Mouse Dopaminergic Neurons
Institutions: Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle, Montpellier, U661, Montpellier, Universités de Montpellier.
Dopaminergic neurons represent less than 1% of the total number of neurons in the brain. This low amount of neurons regulates important brain functions such as motor control, motivation, and working memory. Nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons selectively degenerate in Parkinson's disease (PD). This progressive neuronal loss is unequivocally associated with the motors symptoms of the pathology (bradykinesia, resting tremor, and muscular rigidity). The main agent responsible of dopaminergic neuron degeneration is still unknown. However, these neurons appear to be extremely vulnerable in diverse conditions. Primary cultures constitute one of the most relevant models to investigate properties and characteristics of dopaminergic neurons. These cultures can be submitted to various stress agents that mimic PD pathology and to neuroprotective compounds in order to stop or slow down neuronal degeneration. The numerous transgenic mouse models of PD that have been generated during the last decade further increased the interest of researchers for dopaminergic neuron cultures. Here, the video protocol focuses on the delicate dissection of embryonic mouse brains. Precise excision of ventral mesencephalon is crucial to obtain neuronal cultures sufficiently rich in dopaminergic cells to allow subsequent studies. This protocol can be realized with embryonic transgenic mice and is suitable for immunofluorescence staining, quantitative PCR, second messenger quantification, or neuronal death/survival assessment.
Neurobiology, Issue 91, Mus musculus, mesencephalon, embryonic, tyrosine hydroxylase, dopamine transporter, Parkinson's disease in vitro model
Directed Dopaminergic Neuron Differentiation from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells
Institutions: Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine.
Dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (also known as A9 DA neurons) are the specific cell type that is lost in Parkinson’s disease (PD). There is great interest in deriving A9 DA neurons from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) for regenerative cell replacement therapy for PD. During neural development, A9 DA neurons originate from the floor plate (FP) precursors located at the ventral midline of the central nervous system. Here, we optimized the culture conditions for the stepwise differentiation of hPSCs to A9 DA neurons, which mimics embryonic DA neuron development. In our protocol, we first describe the efficient generation of FP precursor cells from hPSCs using a small molecule method, and then convert the FP cells to A9 DA neurons, which could be maintained in vitro
for several months. This efficient, repeatable and controllable protocol works well in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) from normal persons and PD patients, in which one could derive A9 DA neurons to perform in vitro
disease modeling and drug screening and in vivo
cell transplantation therapy for PD.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, dopaminergic neuron, substantia nigra pars compacta, midbrain, Parkinson’s disease, directed differentiation, human pluripotent stem cells, floor plate
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
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
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),
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Assessing Neurodegenerative Phenotypes in Drosophila Dopaminergic Neurons by Climbing Assays and Whole Brain Immunostaining
Institutions: University of Rochester Medical Center .
is a valuable model organism to study aging and pathological degenerative processes in the nervous system. The advantages of the fly as an experimental system include its genetic tractability, short life span and the possibility to observe and quantitatively analyze complex behaviors. The expression of disease-linked genes in specific neuronal populations of the Drosophila
brain, can be used to model human neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's 5
Dopaminergic (DA) neurons are among the most vulnerable neuronal populations in the aging human brain. In Parkinson's disease (PD), the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder, the accelerated loss of DA neurons leads to a progressive and irreversible decline in locomotor function. In addition to age and exposure to environmental toxins, loss of DA neurons is exacerbated by specific mutations in the coding or promoter regions of several genes. The identification of such PD-associated alleles provides the experimental basis for the use of Drosophila
as a model to study neurodegeneration of DA neurons in vivo
. For example, the expression of the PD-linked human α-synuclein gene in Drosophila
DA neurons recapitulates some features of the human disease, e.g.
progressive loss of DA neurons and declining locomotor function 2
. Accordingly, this model has been successfully used to identify potential therapeutic targets in PD 8
Here we describe two assays that have commonly been used to study age-dependent neurodegeneration of DA neurons in Drosophila
: a climbing assay based on the startle-induced negative geotaxis response and tyrosine hydroxylase immunostaining of whole adult brain mounts to monitor the number of DA neurons at different ages. In both cases, in vivo
expression of UAS transgenes specifically in DA neurons can be achieved by using a tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) promoter-Gal4 driver line 3, 10
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Genetics, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Drosophila melanogaster, neurodegenerative diseases, negative geotaxis, tyrosine hydroxylase, dopaminergic neuron, α-synuclein, neurons, immunostaining, animal model
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Preparation of Parasagittal Slices for the Investigation of Dorsal-ventral Organization of the Rodent Medial Entorhinal Cortex
Institutions: University of Edinburgh , University of Edinburgh .
Computation in the brain relies on neurons responding appropriately to their synaptic inputs. Neurons differ in their complement and distribution of membrane ion channels that determine how they respond to synaptic inputs. However, the relationship between these cellular properties and neuronal function in behaving animals is not well understood. One approach to this problem is to investigate topographically organized neural circuits in which the position of individual neurons maps onto information they encode or computations they carry out1
. Experiments using this approach suggest principles for tuning of synaptic responses underlying information encoding in sensory and cognitive circuits2,3
The topographical organization of spatial representations along the dorsal-ventral axis of the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) provides an opportunity to establish relationships between cellular mechanisms and computations important for spatial cognition. Neurons in layer II of the rodent MEC encode location using grid-like firing fields4-6
. For neurons found at dorsal positions in the MEC the distance between the individual firing fields that form a grid is on the order of 30 cm, whereas for neurons at progressively more ventral positions this distance increases to greater than 1 m. Several studies have revealed cellular properties of neurons in layer II of the MEC that, like the spacing between grid firing fields, also differ according to their dorsal-ventral position, suggesting that these cellular properties are important for spatial computation2,7-10
Here we describe procedures for preparation and electrophysiological recording from brain slices that maintain the dorsal-ventral extent of the MEC enabling investigation of the topographical organization of biophysical and anatomical properties of MEC neurons. The dorsal-ventral position of identified neurons relative to anatomical landmarks is difficult to establish accurately with protocols that use horizontal slices of MEC7,8,11,12
, as it is difficult to establish reference points for the exact dorsal-ventral location of the slice. The procedures we describe enable accurate and consistent measurement of location of recorded cells along the dorsal-ventral axis of the MEC as well as visualization of molecular gradients2,10
. The procedures have been developed for use with adult mice (> 28 days) and have been successfully employed with mice up to 1.5 years old. With adjustments they could be used with younger mice or other rodent species. A standardized system of preparation and measurement will aid systematic investigation of the cellular and microcircuit properties of this area.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Parasagittal slice, Medial Entorhinal Cortex, Stellate cell, Grid cell, Synaptic integration, Topographic map
Profiling Voltage-gated Potassium Channel mRNA Expression in Nigral Neurons using Single-cell RT-PCR Techniques
Institutions: University of Tennessee College of Medicine.
In mammalian central nervous system, different types of neurons with diverse molecular and functional characteristics are intermingled with each other, difficult to separate and also not easily identified by their morphology. Thus, it is often difficult to analyze gene expression in a specific neuron type. Here we document a procedure that combines whole-cell patch clamp recording techniques with single-cell reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (scRT-PCR) to profile mRNA expression in different types of neurons in the substantial nigra. Electrophysiological techniques are first used to record the neurophysiological and functional properties of individual neurons. Then, the cytoplasm of single electrophysiologically characterized nigral neurons is aspirated and subjected to scRT-PCR analysis to obtain mRNA expression profiles for neurotransmitter synthesis enzymes, receptors, and ion channels. The high selectivity and sensitivity make this method particularly useful when immunohistochemistry can not be used due to a lack of suitable antibody or low expression level of the protein. This method is also applicable to neurons in other brain areas.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, action potential, mRNA, patch clamp, single cell RT-PCR, PCR, substantia nigra
Multi-electrode Array Recordings of Neuronal Avalanches in Organotypic Cultures
Institutions: National Institute of Mental Health.
The cortex is spontaneously active, even in the absence of any particular input or motor output. During development, this activity is important for the migration and differentiation of cortex cell types and the formation of neuronal connections1
. In the mature animal, ongoing activity reflects the past and the present state of an animal into which sensory stimuli are seamlessly integrated to compute future actions. Thus, a clear understanding of the organization of ongoing i.e. spontaneous activity is a prerequisite to understand cortex function.
Numerous recording techniques revealed that ongoing activity in cortex is comprised of many neurons whose individual activities transiently sum to larger events that can be detected in the local field potential (LFP) with extracellular microelectrodes, or in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the magnetoencephalogram (MEG), and the BOLD signal from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The LFP is currently the method of choice when studying neuronal population activity with high temporal and spatial resolution at the mesoscopic scale (several thousands of neurons). At the extracellular microelectrode, locally synchronized activities of spatially neighbored neurons result in rapid deflections in the LFP up to several hundreds of microvolts. When using an array of microelectrodes, the organizations of such deflections can be conveniently monitored in space and time.
Neuronal avalanches describe the scale-invariant spatiotemporal organization of ongoing neuronal activity in the brain2,3
. They are specific to the superficial layers of cortex as established in vitro4,5
, in vivo
in the anesthetized rat 6
, and in the awake monkey7
. Importantly, both theoretical and empirical studies2,8-10
suggest that neuronal avalanches indicate an exquisitely balanced critical state dynamics of cortex that optimizes information transfer and information processing.
In order to study the mechanisms of neuronal avalanche development, maintenance, and regulation, in vitro
preparations are highly beneficial, as they allow for stable recordings of avalanche activity under precisely controlled conditions. The current protocol describes how to study neuronal avalanches in vitro by taking advantage of superficial layer development in organotypic cortex cultures, i.e. slice cultures, grown on planar, integrated microelectrode arrays (MEA; see also 11-14
Neuroscience, Issue 54, neuronal activity, neuronal avalanches, organotypic culture, slice culture, microelectrode array, electrophysiology, local field potential, extracellular spikes
GABA-activated Single-channel and Tonic Currents in Rat Brain Slices
Institutions: Uppsala University, Sweden.
channels are present in all neurons and are located both at synapses and outside of synapses where they generate phasic and tonic currents, respectively 4,5,6,7
channel is a pentameric GABA-gated chloride channel. The channel subunits are grouped into 8 families (α1-6, β1-3, γ1-3, δ, ε, θ, π and ρ). Two alphas, two betas and one 3rd
subunit form the functional channel 8
. By combining studies of sub-type specific GABA-activated single-channel molecules with studies including all populations of GABAA
channels in the neuron it becomes possible to understand the basic mechanism of neuronal inhibition and how it is modulated by pharmacological agents.
We use the patch-clamp technique 9,10
to study the functional properties of the GABAA
channels in alive neurons in hippocampal brain slices and record the single-channel and whole-cell currents. We further examine how the channels are affected by different GABA concentrations, other drugs and intra and extracellular factors. For detailed theoretical and practical description of the patch-clamp method please see The Single-Channel Recordings edited by B Sakman and E Neher 10
Neuroscience, Issue 53, brain, patch-clamp, ion channels, tonic current, slices, whole-cell current, single-channel current, GABAA, GABA
Vibrodissociation of Neurons from Rodent Brain Slices to Study Synaptic Transmission and Image Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ewha Womans University, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mechanical dissociation of neurons from the central nervous system has the advantage that presynaptic boutons remain attached to the isolated neuron of interest. This allows for examination of synaptic transmission under conditions where the extracellular and postsynaptic intracellular environments can be well controlled. A vibration-based technique without the use of proteases, known as vibrodissociation, is the most popular technique for mechanical isolation. A micropipette, with the tip fire-polished to the shape of a small ball, is placed into a brain slice made from a P1-P21 rodent. The micropipette is vibrated parallel to the slice surface and lowered through the slice thickness resulting in the liberation of isolated neurons. The isolated neurons are ready for study within a few minutes of vibrodissociation. This technique has advantages over the use of primary neuronal cultures, brain slices and enzymatically isolated neurons including: rapid production of viable, relatively mature neurons suitable for electrophysiological and imaging studies; superior control of the extracellular environment free from the influence of neighboring cells; suitability for well-controlled pharmacological experiments using rapid drug application and total cell superfusion; and improved space-clamp in whole-cell recordings relative to neurons in slice or cell culture preparations. This preparation can be used to examine synaptic physiology, pharmacology, modulation and plasticity. Real-time imaging of both pre- and postsynaptic elements in the living cells and boutons is also possible using vibrodissociated neurons. Characterization of the molecular constituents of pre- and postsynaptic elements can also be achieved with immunological and imaging-based approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, neuronal dissociation, synaptic transmission, GABA, calcium imaging, electrophysiology, hippocampus, striatum
Application of a C. elegans Dopamine Neuron Degeneration Assay for the Validation of Potential Parkinson's Disease Genes
Institutions: University of Alabama.
Improvements to the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) are dependent upon knowledge about susceptibility factors that render populations at risk. In the process of attempting to identify novel genetic factors associated with PD, scientists have generated many lists of candidate genes, polymorphisms, and proteins that represent important advances, but these leads remain mechanistically undefined. Our work is aimed toward significantly narrowing such lists by exploiting the advantages of a simple animal model system. While humans have billions of neurons, the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans has precisely 302, of which only eight produce dopamine (DA) in hemaphrodites. Expression of a human gene encoding the PD-associated protein, alpha-synuclein, in C. elegans DA neurons results in dosage and age-dependent neurodegeneration.
Worms expressing human alpha-synuclein in DA neurons are isogenic and express both GFP and human alpha-synuclein under the DA transporter promoter (Pdat-1). The presence of GFP serves as a readily visualized marker for following DA neurodegeneration in these animals. We initially demonstrated that alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration could be rescued in these animals by torsinA, a protein with molecular chaperone activity 1
. Further, candidate PD-related genes identified in our lab via large-scale RNAi screening efforts using an alpha-synuclein misfolding assay were then over-expressed in C. elegans DA neurons. We determined that five of seven genes tested represented significant candidate modulators of PD as they rescued alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration 2
. Additionally, the Lindquist Lab (this issue of JoVE) has performed yeast screens whereby alpha-synuclein-dependent toxicity is used as a readout for genes that can enhance or suppress cytotoxicity. We subsequently examined the yeast candidate genes in our C. elegans alpha-synuclein-induced neurodegeneration assay and successfully validated many of these targets 3, 4
Our methodology involves generation of a C. elegans DA neuron-specific expression vector using recombinational cloning of candidate gene cDNAs under control of the Pdat-1 promoter. These plasmids are then microinjected in wild-type (N2) worms, along with a selectable marker for successful transformation. Multiple stable transgenic lines producing the candidate protein in DA neurons are obtained and then independently crossed into the alpha-synuclein degenerative strain and assessed for neurodegeneration, at both the animal and individual neuron level, over the course of aging.
Neuroscience, Issue 17, C. elegans, Parkinson's disease, neuroprotection, alpha-synuclein, Translational Research