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.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Recording Electrical Activity from Identified Neurons in the Intact Brain of Transgenic Fish
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Understanding the cell physiology of neural circuits that regulate complex behaviors is greatly enhanced by using model systems in which this work can be performed in an intact brain preparation where the neural circuitry of the CNS remains intact. We use transgenic fish in which gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons are genetically tagged with green fluorescent protein for identification in the intact brain. Fish have multiple populations of GnRH neurons, and their functions are dependent on their location in the brain and the GnRH gene that they express1
. We have focused our demonstration on GnRH3 neurons located in the terminal nerves (TN) associated with the olfactory bulbs using the intact brain of transgenic medaka fish (Figure 1B
). Studies suggest that medaka TN-GnRH3 neurons are neuromodulatory, acting as a transmitter of information from the external environment to the central nervous system; they do not play a direct role in regulating pituitary-gonadal functions, as do the well-known hypothalamic GnRH1 neurons2, 3
.The tonic pattern of spontaneous action potential firing of TN-GnRH3 neurons is an intrinsic property4-6
, the frequency of which is modulated by visual cues from conspecifics2
and the neuropeptide kisspeptin 15
. In this video, we use a stable line of transgenic medaka in which TN-GnRH3 neurons express a transgene containing the promoter region of Gnrh3
linked to enhanced green fluorescent protein7
to show you how to identify neurons and monitor their electrical activity in the whole brain preparation6
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Neuroendocrinology, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Comparative, action potential, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, neuron, brain, teleost, animal model
Localized RNAi and Ectopic Gene Expression in the Medicinal Leech
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD, University of California San Diego - UCSD.
In this video, we show the use of a pneumatic capillary gun for the accurate biolistic delivery of reagents into live tissue. We use the procedure to perturb gene expression patterns in selected segments of leech embryos, leaving the untreated segments as internal controls.
The pneumatic capillary gun can be used to reach internal layers of cells at early stages of development without opening the specimen. As a method for localized introduction of substances into living tissues, the biolistic delivery with the gun has several advantages: it is fast, contact-free and non-destructive. In addition, a single capillary gun can be used for independent delivery of different substances. The delivery region can have lateral dimensions of ~50-150 µm and extends over ~15 µm around the mean penetration depth, which is adjustable between 0 and 50 µm. This delivery has the advantage of being able to target a limited number of cells in a selected location intermediate between single cell knock down by microinjection and systemic knockdown through extracellular injections or by means of genetic approaches.
For knocking down or knocking in the expression of the axon guidance molecule Netrin, which is naturally expressed by some central neurons and in the ventral body wall, but not the dorsal domain, we deliver molecules of dsRNA or plasmid-DNA into the body wall and central ganglia. This procedure includes the following steps: (i) preparation of the experimental setup for a specific assay (adjusting the accelerating pressure), (ii) coating the particles with molecules of dsRNA or DNA, (iii) loading the coated particles into the gun, up to two reagents in one assay, (iv) preparing the animals for the particle delivery, (v) delivery of coated particles into the target tissue (body wall or ganglia), and (vi) processing the embryos (immunostaining, immunohistochemistry and neuronal labeling) to visualize the results, usually 2 to 3 days after the delivery.
When the particles were coated with netrin dsRNA, they caused clearly visible knock-down of netrin expression that only occurred in cells containing particles (usually, 1-2 particles per cell). Particles coated with a plasmid encoding EGFP induced fluorescence in neuronal cells when they stopped in their nuclei.
Neuroscience, Issue 14, leech, netrin, axon guidance, development, mechanosensory neurons, gene gun, RNAi
Functional Interrogation of Adult Hypothalamic Neurogenesis with Focal Radiological Inhibition
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University Of Washington Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The functional characterization of adult-born neurons remains a significant challenge. Approaches to inhibit adult neurogenesis via invasive viral delivery or transgenic animals have potential confounds that make interpretation of results from these studies difficult. New radiological tools are emerging, however, that allow one to noninvasively investigate the function of select groups of adult-born neurons through accurate and precise anatomical targeting in small animals. Focal ionizing radiation inhibits the birth and differentiation of new neurons, and allows targeting of specific neural progenitor regions. In order to illuminate the potential functional role that adult hypothalamic neurogenesis plays in the regulation of physiological processes, we developed a noninvasive focal irradiation technique to selectively inhibit the birth of adult-born neurons in the hypothalamic median eminence. We describe a method for C
omputer tomography-guided f
radiation (CFIR) delivery to enable precise and accurate anatomical targeting in small animals. CFIR uses three-dimensional volumetric image guidance for localization and targeting of the radiation dose, minimizes radiation exposure to nontargeted brain regions, and allows for conformal dose distribution with sharp beam boundaries. This protocol allows one to ask questions regarding the function of adult-born neurons, but also opens areas to questions in areas of radiobiology, tumor biology, and immunology. These radiological tools will facilitate the translation of discoveries at the bench to the bedside.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Neural Stem Cells (NSCs), Body Weight, Radiotherapy, Image-Guided, Metabolism, Energy Metabolism, Neurogenesis, Cell Proliferation, Neurosciences, Irradiation, Radiological treatment, Computer-tomography (CT) imaging, Hypothalamus, Hypothalamic Proliferative Zone (HPZ), Median Eminence (ME), Small Animal Radiation Research Platform (SARRP)
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
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
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
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
Production and Isolation of Axons from Sensory Neurons for Biochemical Analysis Using Porous Filters
Institutions: Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.
Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, neuron, axon, filter inserts, culture system, dorsal root ganglion, axonal degeneration
A High Content Imaging Assay for Identification of Botulinum Neurotoxin Inhibitors
Institutions: Perkin Elmer Inc., Henry M. Jackson Foundation, The Geneva Foundation, ORISE, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC).
Synaptosomal-associated protein-25 (SNAP-25) is a component of the soluble NSF attachment protein receptor (SNARE) complex that is essential for synaptic neurotransmitter release. Botulinum neurotoxin serotype A (BoNT/A) is a zinc metalloprotease that blocks exocytosis of neurotransmitter by cleaving the SNAP-25 component of the SNARE complex. Currently there are no licensed medicines to treat BoNT/A poisoning after internalization of the toxin by motor neurons. The development of effective therapeutic measures to counter BoNT/A intoxication has been limited, due in part to the lack of robust high-throughput assays for screening small molecule libraries. Here we describe a high content imaging (HCI) assay with utility for identification of BoNT/A inhibitors. Initial optimization efforts focused on improving the reproducibility of inter-plate results across multiple, independent experiments. Automation of immunostaining, image acquisition, and image analysis were found to increase assay consistency and minimize variability while enabling the multiparameter evaluation of experimental compounds in a murine motor neuron system.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, neuroscience, neurobiology, Botulinum neurotoxin, Clostridium botulinum, high content imaging system, neurotoxicity
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Isolation of Cerebrospinal Fluid from Rodent Embryos for use with Dissected Cerebral Cortical Explants
Institutions: VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
The CSF is a complex fluid with a dynamically varying proteome throughout development and in adulthood. During embryonic development, the nascent CSF differentiates from the amniotic fluid upon closure of the anterior neural tube. CSF volume then increases over subsequent days as the neuroepithelial progenitor cells lining the ventricles and the choroid plexus generate CSF. The embryonic CSF contacts the apical, ventricular surface of the neural stem cells of the developing brain and spinal cord. CSF provides crucial fluid pressure for the expansion of the developing brain and distributes important growth promoting factors to neural progenitor cells in a temporally-specific manner. To investigate the function of the CSF, it is important to isolate pure samples of embryonic CSF without contamination from blood or the developing telencephalic tissue. Here, we describe a technique to isolate relatively pure samples of ventricular embryonic CSF that can be used for a wide range of experimental assays including mass spectrometry, protein electrophoresis, and cell and primary explant culture. We demonstrate how to dissect and culture cortical explants on porous polycarbonate membranes in order to grow developing cortical tissue with reduced volumes of media or CSF. With this method, experiments can be performed using CSF from varying ages or conditions to investigate the biological activity of the CSF proteome on target cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Stem Cell Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Surgery, Neural Stem Cells (NSCs), stem cells, Cerebral Cortex, Cerebrospinal Fluid, CSF, ventricular embryonic CSF, Isolation, Brain, Cerebral Cortical Explant, tissue, culture, mouse, animal model
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
Automated Sholl Analysis of Digitized Neuronal Morphology at Multiple Scales
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Neuronal morphology plays a significant role in determining how neurons function and communicate1-3
. Specifically, it affects the ability of neurons to receive inputs from other cells2
and contributes to the propagation of action potentials4,5
. The morphology of the neurites also affects how information is processed. The diversity of dendrite morphologies facilitate local and long range signaling and allow individual neurons or groups of neurons to carry out specialized functions within the neuronal network6,7
. Alterations in dendrite morphology, including fragmentation of dendrites and changes in branching patterns, have been observed in a number of disease states, including Alzheimer's disease8
, and mental retardation11
. The ability to both understand the factors that shape dendrite morphologies and to identify changes in dendrite morphologies is essential in the understanding of nervous system function and dysfunction.
Neurite morphology is often analyzed by Sholl analysis and by counting the number of neurites and the number of branch tips. This analysis is generally applied to dendrites, but it can also be applied to axons. Performing this analysis by hand is both time consuming and inevitably introduces variability due to experimenter bias and inconsistency. The Bonfire program is a semi-automated approach to the analysis of dendrite and axon morphology that builds upon available open-source morphological analysis tools. Our program enables the detection of local changes in dendrite and axon branching behaviors by performing Sholl analysis on subregions of the neuritic arbor. For example, Sholl analysis is performed on both the neuron as a whole as well as on each subset of processes (primary, secondary, terminal, root, etc.) Dendrite and axon patterning is influenced by a number of intracellular and extracellular factors, many acting locally. Thus, the resulting arbor morphology is a result of specific processes acting on specific neurites, making it necessary to perform morphological analysis on a smaller scale in order to observe these local variations12
The Bonfire program requires the use of two open-source analysis tools, the NeuronJ plugin to ImageJ and NeuronStudio. Neurons are traced in ImageJ, and NeuronStudio is used to define the connectivity between neurites. Bonfire contains a number of custom scripts written in MATLAB (MathWorks) that are used to convert the data into the appropriate format for further analysis, check for user errors, and ultimately perform Sholl analysis. Finally, data are exported into Excel for statistical analysis. A flow chart of the Bonfire program is shown in Figure 1
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Sholl Analysis, Neurite, Morphology, Computer-assisted, Tracing
Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6
. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7
. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant.
Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10
. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12
. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10
Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
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
Dissection and Culture of Mouse Dopaminergic and Striatal Explants in Three-Dimensional Collagen Matrix Assays
Institutions: University Medical Center Utrecht.
Midbrain dopamine (mdDA) neurons project via the medial forebrain bundle towards several areas in the telencephalon, including the striatum1
. Reciprocally, medium spiny neurons in the striatum that give rise to the striatonigral (direct) pathway innervate the substantia nigra2
. The development of these axon tracts is dependent upon the combinatorial actions of a plethora of axon growth and guidance cues including molecules that are released by neurites or by (intermediate) target regions3,4
. These soluble factors can be studied in vitro
by culturing mdDA and/or striatal explants in a collagen matrix which provides a three-dimensional substrate for the axons mimicking the extracellular environment. In addition, the collagen matrix allows for the formation of relatively stable gradients of proteins released by other explants or cells placed in the vicinity (e.g. see references 5 and 6). Here we describe methods for the purification of rat tail collagen, microdissection of dopaminergic and striatal explants, their culture in collagen gels and subsequent immunohistochemical and quantitative analysis. First, the brains of E14.5 mouse embryos are isolated and dopaminergic and striatal explants are microdissected. These explants are then (co)cultured in collagen gels on coverslips for 48 to 72 hours in vitro
. Subsequently, axonal projections are visualized using neuronal markers (e.g. tyrosine hydroxylase, DARPP32, or βIII tubulin) and axon growth and attractive or repulsive axon responses are quantified. This neuronal preparation is a useful tool for in vitro
studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of mesostriatal and striatonigral axon growth and guidance during development. Using this assay, it is also possible to assess other (intermediate) targets for dopaminergic and striatal axons or to test specific molecular cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Axon guidance, collagen matrix, development, dissection, dopamine, medium spiny neuron, rat tail collagen, striatum, striatonigral, mesostriatal
Imaging Calcium Responses in GFP-tagged Neurons of Hypothalamic Mouse Brain Slices
Institutions: University of Saarland, Homburg, Germany.
Despite an enormous increase in our knowledge about the mechanisms underlying the encoding of information in the brain, a central question concerning the precise molecular steps as well as the activity of specific neurons in multi-functional nuclei of brain areas such as the hypothalamus remain. This problem includes identification of the molecular components involved in the regulation of various neurohormone signal transduction cascades. Elevations of intracellular Ca2+
play an important role in regulating the sensitivity of neurons, both at the level of signal transduction and at synaptic sites.
New tools have emerged to help identify neurons in the myriad of brain neurons by expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of a particular promoter. To monitor both spatially and temporally stimulus-induced Ca2+
responses in GFP-tagged neurons, a non-green fluorescent Ca2+
indicator dye needs to be used. In addition, confocal microscopy is a favorite method of imaging individual neurons in tissue slices due to its ability to visualize neurons in distinct planes of depth within the tissue and to limit out-of-focus fluorescence. The ratiometric Ca2+
indicator fura-2 has been used in combination with GFP-tagged neurons1
. However, the dye is excited by ultraviolet (UV) light. The cost of the laser and the limited optical penetration depth of UV light hindered its use in many laboratories. Moreover, GFP fluorescence may interfere with the fura-2 signals2
. Therefore, we decided to use a red fluorescent Ca2+
indicator dye. The huge Stokes shift of fura-red permits multicolor analysis of the red fluorescence in combination with GFP using a single excitation wavelength. We had previously good results using fura-red in combination with GFP-tagged olfactory neurons3
. The protocols for olfactory tissue slices seemed to work equally well in hypothalamic neurons4
. Fura-red based Ca2+
imaging was also successfully combined with GFP-tagged pancreatic β-cells and GFP-tagged receptors expressed in HEK cells5,6
. A little quirk of fura-red is that its fluorescence intensity at 650 nm decreases once the indicator binds calcium7
. Therefore, the fluorescence of resting neurons with low Ca2+
concentration has relatively high intensity. It should be noted, that other red Ca2+
-indicator dyes exist or are currently being developed, that might give better or improved results in different neurons and brain areas.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Molecular Biology, Medicine, GFP, fura-red, calcium, confocal imaging, neuron, hypothalamus, brain, olfaction, mouse, slice preparation
Neural Explant Cultures from Xenopus laevis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
The complex process of axon guidance is largely driven by the growth cone, which is the dynamic motile structure at the tip of the growing axon. During axon outgrowth, the growth cone must integrate multiple sources of guidance cue information to modulate its cytoskeleton in order to propel the growth cone forward and accurately navigate to find its specific targets1
. How this integration occurs at the cytoskeletal level is still emerging, and examination of cytoskeletal protein and effector dynamics within the growth cone can allow the elucidation of these mechanisms. Xenopus laevis
growth cones are large enough (10-30 microns in diameter) to perform high-resolution live imaging of cytoskeletal dynamics (e.g.2-4
) and are easy to isolate and manipulate in a lab setting compared to other vertebrates. The frog is a classic model system for developmental neurobiology studies, and important early insights into growth cone microtubule dynamics were initially found using this system5-7
. In this method8
, eggs are collected and fertilized in vitro
, injected with RNA encoding fluorescently tagged cytoskeletal fusion proteins or other constructs to manipulate gene expression, and then allowed to develop to the neural tube stage. Neural tubes are isolated by dissection and then are cultured, and growth cones on outgrowing neurites are imaged. In this article, we describe how to perform this method, the goal of which is to culture Xenopus laevis
growth cones for subsequent high-resolution image analysis. While we provide the example of +TIP fusion protein EB1-GFP, this method can be applied to any number of proteins to elucidate their behaviors within the growth cone.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Growth cone, neural explant, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging, cytoskeletal dynamics, cell culture
Dissection, Culture, and Analysis of Xenopus laevis Embryonic Retinal Tissue
Institutions: College of William and Mary.
The process by which the anterior region of the neural plate gives rise to the vertebrate retina continues to be a major focus of both clinical and basic research. In addition to the obvious medical relevance for understanding and treating retinal disease, the development of the vertebrate retina continues to serve as an important and elegant model system for understanding neuronal cell type determination and differentiation1-16
. The neural retina consists of six discrete cell types (ganglion, amacrine, horizontal, photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and Müller glial cells) arranged in stereotypical layers, a pattern that is largely conserved among all vertebrates 12,14-18
While studying the retina in the intact developing embryo is clearly required for understanding how this complex organ develops from a protrusion of the forebrain into a layered structure, there are many questions that benefit from employing approaches using primary cell culture of presumptive retinal cells 7,19-23
. For example, analyzing cells from tissues removed and dissociated at different stages allows one to discern the state of specification of individual cells at different developmental stages, that is, the fate of the cells in the absence of interactions with neighboring tissues 8,19-22,24-33
. Primary cell culture also allows the investigator to treat the culture with specific reagents and analyze the results on a single cell level 5,8,21,24,27-30,33-39
. Xenopus laevis,
a classic model system for the study of early neural development 19,27,29,31-32,40-42
, serves as a particularly suitable system for retinal primary cell culture 10,38,43-45
Presumptive retinal tissue is accessible from the earliest stages of development, immediately following neural induction 25,38,43
. In addition, given that each cell in the embryo contains a supply of yolk, retinal cells can be cultured in a very simple defined media consisting of a buffered salt solution, thus removing the confounding effects of incubation or other sera-based products 10,24,44-45
However, the isolation of the retinal tissue from surrounding tissues and the subsequent processing is challenging. Here, we present a method for the dissection and dissociation of retinal cells in Xenopus laevis
that will be used to prepare primary cell cultures that will, in turn, be analyzed for calcium activity and gene expression at the resolution of single cells. While the topic presented in this paper is the analysis of spontaneous calcium transients, the technique is broadly applicable to a wide array of research questions and approaches (Figure 1
Developmental Biology, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Surgery, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, retina, primary cell culture, dissection, confocal microscopy, calcium imaging, fluorescent in situ hybridization, FISH, Xenopus laevis, animal model
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
Dual Somatic Recordings from Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Neurons Identified by Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) in Hypothalamic Slices
Institutions: University of Texas San Antonio - UTSA.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) is a small neuropeptide that regulates pituitary release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These gonadotropins are essential for the regulation of reproductive function. The GnRH-containing neurons are distributed diffusely throughout the hypothalamus and project to the median eminence where they release GnRH from their axon terminals into the hypophysiotropic portal system (1). In the portal capillaries, GnRH travels to the anterior pituitary gland to stimulate release of gonadotropins into systemic circulation. GnRH release is not continuous but rather occurs in episodic pulses. It is well established that the intermittent manner of GnRH release is essential for reproduction (2, 3).
Coordination of activity of multiple GnRH neurons probably underlies GnRH pulses. Total peptide content in GnRH neurons is approximately 1.0 pg/cell (4), of which 30% likely comprises the releasable pool. Levels of GnRH during a pulse (5, 6), suggest multiple GnRH neurons are probably involved in neurosecretion. Likewise, single unit activity extracted from hypothalamic multi-unit recordings during LH release indicates changes in activity of multiple neurons (7). The electrodes with recorded activity during LH pulses are associated with either GnRH somata or fibers (8). Therefore, at least some of this activity arises from GnRH neurons.
The mechanisms that result in synchronized firing in hypothalamic GnRH neurons are unknown. Elucidating the mechanisms that coordinate firing in GnRH neurons is a complex problem. First, the GnRH neurons are relatively few in number. In rodents, there are 800-2500 GnRH neurons. It is not clear that all GnRH neurons are involved in episodic GnRH release. Moreover, GnRH neurons are diffusely distributed (1). This has complicated our understanding of coordination of firing and has made many technical approaches intractable. We have optimized loose cell-attached recordings in current-clamp mode for the direct detection of action potentials and developed a recording approach that allows for simultaneous recordings from pairs of GnRH neurons.
Jove Neuroscience, Issue 36, electrophysiology, simultaneous recording, cell-attached recording, current clamp, brain slice