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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Generation of Topically Transgenic Rats by In utero Electroporation and In vivo Bioluminescence Screening
Institutions: Medical School Düsseldorf, Weizmann Institute for Science, University of Düsseldorf.
electroporation (IUE) is a technique which allows genetic modification of cells in the brain for investigating neuronal development. So far, the use of IUE for investigating behavior or neuropathology in the adult brain has been limited by insufficient methods for monitoring of IUE transfection success by non-invasive techniques in postnatal animals.
For the present study, E16 rats were used for IUE. After intraventricular injection of the nucleic acids into the embryos, positioning of the tweezer electrodes was critical for targeting either the developing cortex or the hippocampus.
Ventricular co-injection and electroporation of a luciferase gene allowed monitoring of the transfected cells postnatally after intraperitoneal luciferin injection in the anesthetized live P7 pup by in vivo
bioluminescence, using an IVIS Spectrum device with 3D quantification software.
Area definition by bioluminescence could clearly differentiate between cortical and hippocampal electroporations and detect a signal longitudinally over time up to 5 weeks after birth. This imaging technique allowed us to select pups with a sufficient number of transfected cells assumed necessary for triggering biological effects and, subsequently, to perform behavioral investigations at 3 month of age. As an example, this study demonstrates that IUE with the human full length DISC1
gene into the rat cortex led to amphetamine hypersensitivity. Co-transfected GFP could be detected in neurons by post mortem
fluorescence microscopy in cryosections indicating gene expression present at ≥6 months after birth.
We conclude that postnatal bioluminescence imaging allows evaluating the success of transient transfections with IUE in rats. Investigations on the influence of topical gene manipulations during neurodevelopment on the adult brain and its connectivity are greatly facilitated. For many scientific questions, this technique can supplement or even replace the use of transgenic rats and provide a novel technology for behavioral neuroscience.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Hippocampus, Memory, Schizophrenia, In utero electroporation, in vivo bioluminescence imaging, Luciferase, Disrupted-in-schizophrenia-1 (DISC1)
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
Visualizing the Effects of a Positive Early Experience, Tactile Stimulation, on Dendritic Morphology and Synaptic Connectivity with Golgi-Cox Staining
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
To generate longer-term changes in behavior, experiences must be producing stable changes in neuronal morphology and synaptic connectivity. Tactile stimulation is a positive early experience that mimics maternal licking and grooming in the rat. Exposing rat pups to this positive experience can be completed easily and cost-effectively by using highly accessible materials such as a household duster. Using a cross-litter design, pups are either stroked or left undisturbed, for 15 min, three times per day throughout the perinatal period. To measure the neuroplastic changes related to this positive early experience, Golgi-Cox staining of brain tissue is utilized. Owing to the fact that Golgi-Cox impregnation stains a discrete number of neurons rather than all of the cells, staining of the rodent brain with Golgi-Cox solution permits the visualization of entire neuronal elements, including the cell body, dendrites, axons, and dendritic spines. The staining procedure is carried out over several days and requires that the researcher pay close attention to detail. However, once staining is completed, the entire brain has been impregnated and can be preserved indefinitely for ongoing analysis. Therefore, Golgi-Cox staining is a valuable resource for studying experience-dependent plasticity.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Brain, Prefrontal Cortex, Neurons, Massage, Staining and Labeling, mPFC, spine density, methodology, enrichment
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
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
Calcium Phosphate Transfection of Primary Hippocampal Neurons
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Calcium phosphate precipitation is a convenient and economical method for transfection of cultured cells. With optimization, it is possible to use this method on hard-to-transfect cells like primary neurons. Here we describe our detailed protocol for calcium phosphate transfection of hippocampal neurons cocultured with astroglial cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Primary hippocampal neuron, calcium phosphate transfection, Coculture, astroglial cells, DNA
Imaging Dendritic Spines of Rat Primary Hippocampal Neurons using Structured Illumination Microscopy
Institutions: University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam.
Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm.
Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro
, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Dendritic Spine, Microscopy, Confocal, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, hippocampus, primary neuron, super resolution microscopy, structured illumination microscopy (SIM), neuroscience, dendrite
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
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Characterizing the Composition of Molecular Motors on Moving Axonal Cargo Using "Cargo Mapping" Analysis
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, University of California San Diego, University of California San Diego, University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Understanding the mechanisms by which molecular motors coordinate their activities to transport vesicular cargoes within neurons requires the quantitative analysis of motor/cargo associations at the single vesicle level. The goal of this protocol is to use quantitative fluorescence microscopy to correlate (“map”) the position and directionality of movement of live cargo to the composition and relative amounts of motors associated with the same cargo. “Cargo mapping” consists of live imaging of fluorescently labeled cargoes moving in axons cultured on microfluidic devices, followed by chemical fixation during recording of live movement, and subsequent immunofluorescence (IF) staining of the exact same axonal regions with antibodies against motors. Colocalization between cargoes and their associated motors is assessed by assigning sub-pixel position coordinates to motor and cargo channels, by fitting Gaussian functions to the diffraction-limited point spread functions representing individual fluorescent point sources. Fixed cargo and motor images are subsequently superimposed to plots of cargo movement, to “map” them to their tracked trajectories. The strength of this protocol is the combination of live and IF data to record both the transport of vesicular cargoes in live cells and to determine the motors associated to these exact same vesicles. This technique overcomes previous challenges that use biochemical methods to determine the average motor composition of purified heterogeneous bulk vesicle populations, as these methods do not reveal compositions on single moving cargoes. Furthermore, this protocol can be adapted for the analysis of other transport and/or trafficking pathways in other cell types to correlate the movement of individual intracellular structures with their protein composition. Limitations of this protocol are the relatively low throughput due to low transfection efficiencies of cultured primary neurons and a limited field of view available for high-resolution imaging. Future applications could include methods to increase the number of neurons expressing fluorescently labeled cargoes.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, kinesin, dynein, single vesicle, axonal transport, microfluidic devices, primary hippocampal neurons, quantitative fluorescence microscopy
Imaging pHluorin-tagged Receptor Insertion to the Plasma Membrane in Primary Cultured Mouse Neurons
Institutions: The Jackson Laboratory.
A better understanding of the mechanisms governing receptor trafficking between the plasma membrane (PM) and intracellular compartments requires an experimental approach with excellent spatial and temporal resolutions. Moreover, such an approach must also have the ability to distinguish receptors localized on the PM from those in intracellular compartments. Most importantly, detecting receptors in a single vesicle requires outstanding detection sensitivity, since each vesicle carries only a small number of receptors. Standard approaches for examining receptor trafficking include surface biotinylation followed by biochemical detection, which lacks both the necessary spatial and temporal resolutions; and fluorescence microscopy examination of immunolabeled surface receptors, which requires chemical fixation of cells and therefore lacks sufficient temporal resolution1-6
. To overcome these limitations, we and others have developed and employed a new strategy that enables visualization of the dynamic insertion of receptors into the PM with excellent spatial and temporal resolutions 7-17
. The approach includes tagging of a pH-sensitive GFP, the superecliptic pHluorin 18
, to the N-terminal extracellular domain of the receptors. Superecliptic pHluorin has the unique property of being fluorescent at neutral pH and non-fluorescent at acidic pH (pH < 6.0). Therefore, the tagged receptors are non-fluorescent when within the acidic lumen of intracellular trafficking vesicles or endosomal compartments, and they become readily visualized only when exposed to the extracellular neutral pH environment, on the outer surface of the PM. Our strategy consequently allows us to distinguish PM surface receptors from those within intracellular trafficking vesicles. To attain sufficient spatial and temporal resolutions, as well as the sensitivity required to study dynamic trafficking of receptors, we employed total internal reflection fluorescent microscopy (TIRFM), which enabled us to achieve the optimal spatial resolution of optical imaging (~170 nm), the temporal resolution of video-rate microscopy (30 frames/sec), and the sensitivity to detect fluorescence of a single GFP molecule. By imaging pHluorin-tagged receptors under TIRFM, we were able to directly visualize individual receptor insertion events into the PM in cultured neurons. This imaging approach can potentially be applied to any membrane protein with an extracellular domain that could be labeled with superecliptic pHluorin, and will allow dissection of the key detailed mechanisms governing insertion of different membrane proteins (receptors, ion channels, transporters, etc.) to the PM.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Medicine, primary cultured mouse neuron, superecliptic pHluorin, receptor, plasma membrane insertion, total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, neurons, mice, pHlourin-tagged, plasma membrane
Immunohistological Labeling of Microtubules in Sensory Neuron Dendrites, Tracheae, and Muscles in the Drosophila Larva Body Wall
Institutions: RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Saitama University.
To understand how differences in complex cell shapes are achieved, it is important to accurately follow microtubule organization. The Drosophila
larval body wall contains several cell types that are models to study cell and tissue morphogenesis. For example tracheae are used to examine tube morphogenesis1
, and the dendritic arborization (DA) sensory neurons of the Drosophila
larva have become a primary system for the elucidation of general and neuron-class-specific mechanisms of dendritic differentiation2-5
The shape of dendrite branches can vary significantly between neuron classes, and even among different branches of a single neuron7,8
. Genetic studies in DA neurons suggest that differential cytoskeletal organization can underlie morphological differences in dendritic branch shape4,9-11
. We provide a robust immunological labeling method to assay in vivo
microtubule organization in DA sensory neuron dendrite arbor (Figures 1, 2, Movie 1). This protocol illustrates the dissection and immunostaining of first instar larva, a stage when active sensory neuron dendrite outgrowth and branching organization is occurring 12,13
In addition to staining sensory neurons, this method achieves robust labeling of microtubule organization in muscles (Movies 2, 3), trachea (Figure 3, Movie 3), and other body wall tissues. It is valuable for investigators wishing to analyze microtubule organization in situ
in the body wall when investigating mechanisms that control tissue and cell shape.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, developmental biology, Drosophila larvae, immunohistochemistry, microtubule, trachea, dendritic arborization neurons
Strategies for Study of Neuroprotection from Cold-preconditioning
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Neurological injury is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality from general anesthesia and related surgical procedures that could be alleviated by development of effective, easy to administer and safe preconditioning treatments. We seek to define the neural immune signaling responsible for cold-preconditioning as means to identify novel targets for therapeutics development to protect brain before injury onset. Low-level pro-inflammatory mediator signaling changes over time are essential for cold-preconditioning neuroprotection. This signaling is consistent with the basic tenets of physiological conditioning hormesis, which require that irritative stimuli reach a threshold magnitude with sufficient time for adaptation to the stimuli for protection to become evident.
Accordingly, delineation of the immune signaling involved in cold-preconditioning neuroprotection requires that biological systems and experimental manipulations plus technical capacities are highly reproducible and sensitive. Our approach is to use hippocampal slice cultures as an in vitro
model that closely reflects their in vivo
counterparts with multi-synaptic neural networks influenced by mature and quiescent macroglia / microglia. This glial state is particularly important for microglia since they are the principal source of cytokines, which are operative in the femtomolar range. Also, slice cultures can be maintained in vitro
for several weeks, which is sufficient time to evoke activating stimuli and assess adaptive responses. Finally, environmental conditions can be accurately controlled using slice cultures so that cytokine signaling of cold-preconditioning can be measured, mimicked, and modulated to dissect the critical node aspects. Cytokine signaling system analyses require the use of sensitive and reproducible multiplexed techniques. We use quantitative PCR for TNF-α to screen for microglial activation followed by quantitative real-time qPCR array screening to assess tissue-wide cytokine changes. The latter is a most sensitive and reproducible means to measure multiple cytokine system signaling changes simultaneously. Significant changes are confirmed with targeted qPCR and then protein detection. We probe for tissue-based cytokine protein changes using multiplexed microsphere flow cytometric assays using Luminex technology. Cell-specific cytokine production is determined with double-label immunohistochemistry. Taken together, this brain tissue preparation and style of use, coupled to the suggested investigative strategies, may be an optimal approach for identifying potential targets for the development of novel therapeutics that could mimic the advantages of cold-preconditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, hippocampus, slice culture, immunohistochemistry, neural-immune, gene expression, real-time PCR
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
Nucleofection and Primary Culture of Embryonic Mouse Hippocampal and Cortical Neurons
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Hippocampal and cortical neurons have been used extensively to study central nervous system (CNS) neuronal polarization, axon/dendrite outgrowth, and synapse formation and function. An advantage of culturing these neurons is that they readily polarize, forming distinctive axons and dendrites, on a two dimensional substrate at very low densities. This property has made them extremely useful for determining many aspects of neuronal development. Furthermore, by providing glial conditioning for these neurons they will continue to develop, forming functional synaptic connections and surviving for several months in culture. In this protocol we outline a technique to dissect, culture and transfect embryonic mouse hippocampal and cortical neurons. Transfection is accomplished by electroporating DNA into the neurons before plating via nucleofection. This protocol has the advantage of expressing fluorescently-tagged fusion proteins early in development (~4-8hrs after plating) to study the dynamics and function of proteins during polarization, axon outgrowth and branching. We have also discovered that this single transfection before plating maintains fluorescently-tagged fusion protein expression at levels appropriate for imaging throughout the lifetime of the neuron (> 2 months in culture). Thus, this methodology is useful for studying protein localization and function throughout CNS development with little or no disruption of neuronal function.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, hippocampus, cortex, transfection, nucleofection, electroporation, primary culture
Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
Morphological Analysis of Drosophila Larval Peripheral Sensory Neuron Dendrites and Axons Using Genetic Mosaics
Institutions: RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Saitama University.
Nervous system development requires the correct specification of neuron position and identity, followed by accurate neuron class-specific dendritic development and axonal wiring. Recently the dendritic arborization (DA) sensory neurons of the Drosophila
larval peripheral nervous system (PNS) have become powerful genetic models in which to elucidate both general and class-specific mechanisms of neuron differentiation.
There are four main DA neuron classes (I-IV)1
. They are named in order of increasing dendrite arbor complexity, and have class-specific differences in the genetic control of their differentiation2-10
. The DA sensory system is a practical model to investigate the molecular mechanisms behind the control of dendritic morphology11-13
because: 1) it can take advantage of the powerful genetic tools available in the fruit fly, 2) the DA neuron dendrite arbor spreads out in only 2 dimensions beneath an optically clear larval cuticle making it easy to visualize with high resolution in vivo
, 3) the class-specific diversity in dendritic morphology facilitates a comparative analysis to find key elements controlling the formation of simple vs. highly branched dendritic trees, and 4) dendritic arbor stereotypical shapes of different DA neurons facilitate morphometric statistical analyses.
DA neuron activity modifies the output of a larval locomotion central pattern generator14-16
. The different DA neuron classes have distinct sensory modalities, and their activation elicits different behavioral responses14,16-20
. Furthermore different classes send axonal projections stereotypically into the Drosophila
larval central nervous system in the ventral nerve cord (VNC)21
. These projections terminate with topographic representations of both DA neuron sensory modality and the position in the body wall of the dendritic field7,22,23
. Hence examination of DA axonal projections can be used to elucidate mechanisms underlying topographic mapping7,22,23
, as well as the wiring of a simple circuit modulating larval locomotion14-17
We present here a practical guide to generate and analyze genetic mosaics24
marking DA neurons via MARCM (Mosaic Analysis with a Repressible Cell Marker)1,10,25
techniques (summarized in Fig. 1).
Neuroscience, Issue 57, developmental biology, sensory neuron, Drosophila, larvae, immunohistochemistry, dendritic arborization neurons, peripheral nervous system, MARCM, Flp-out
Bilaminar Co-culture of Primary Rat Cortical Neurons and Glia
Institutions: Drexel University College of Medicine.
This video will guide you through the process of culturing rat cortical neurons in the presence of a glial feeder layer, a system known as a bilaminar or co-culture model. This system is suitable for a variety of experimental needs requiring either a glass or plastic growth substrate and can also be used for culture of other types of neurons.
Rat cortical neurons obtained from the late embryonic stage (E17) are plated on glass coverslips or tissue culture dishes facing a feeder layer of glia grown on dishes or plastic coverslips (known as Thermanox
), respectively. The choice between the two configurations depends on the specific experimental technique used, which may require, or not, that neurons are grown on glass (e.g. calcium imaging versus Western blot). The glial feeder layer, an astroglia-enriched secondary culture of mixed glia, is separately prepared from the cortices of newborn rat pups (P2-4) prior to the neuronal dissection.
A major advantage of this culture system as compared to a culture of neurons only is the support of neuronal growth, survival, and differentiation provided by trophic factors secreted from the glial feeder layer, which more accurately resembles the brain environment in vivo
. Furthermore, the co-culture can be used to study neuronal-glial interactions1
At the same time, glia contamination in the neuronal layer is prevented by different means (low density culture, addition of mitotic inhibitors, lack of serum and use of optimized culture medium) leading to a virtually pure neuronal layer, comparable to other established methods1-3
. Neurons can be easily separated from the glial layer at any time during culture and used for different experimental applications ranging from electrophysiology4
, cellular and molecular biology5-8
, imaging and microscopy4,6,7,9,10
. The primary neurons extend axons and dendrites to form functional synapses11
, a process which is not observed in neuronal cell lines, although some cell lines do extend processes.
A detailed protocol of culturing rat hippocampal neurons using this co-culture system has been described previously4,12,13
. Here we detail a modified protocol suited for cortical neurons. As approximately 20x106
cells are recovered from each rat embryo, this method is particularly useful for experiments requiring large numbers of neurons (but not concerned about a highly homogenous neuronal population). The preparation of neurons and glia needs to be planned in a time-specific manner. We will provide the step-by-step protocol for culturing rat cortical neurons as well as culturing glial cells to support the neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, neuron, rat, brain, co-culture, cortex, glia, glial cells
Genome-wide Screen for miRNA Targets Using the MISSION Target ID Library
The Target ID Library is designed to assist in discovery and identification of microRNA (miRNA) targets. The Target ID Library is a plasmid-based, genome-wide cDNA library cloned into the 3'UTR downstream from the dual-selection fusion protein, thymidine kinase-zeocin (TKzeo). The first round of selection is for stable transformants, followed with introduction of a miRNA of interest, and finally, selecting for cDNAs containing the miRNA's target. Selected cDNAs are identified by sequencing (see Figure 1-3 for Target ID Library Workflow and details).
To ensure broad coverage of the human transcriptome, Target ID Library cDNAs were generated via oligo-dT priming using a pool of total RNA prepared from multiple human tissues and cell lines. Resulting cDNA range from 0.5 to 4 kb, with an average size of 1.2 kb, and were cloned into the p3΄TKzeo dual-selection plasmid (see Figure 4 for plasmid map). The gene targets represented in the library can be found on the Sigma-Aldrich webpage. Results from Illumina sequencing (Table 3
), show that the library includes 16,922 of the 21,518 unique genes in UCSC RefGene (79%), or 14,000 genes with 10 or more reads (66%).
Genetics, Issue 62, Target ID, miRNA, ncRNA, RNAi, genomics
Inducing Dendritic Growth in Cultured Sympathetic Neurons
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
The shape of the dendritic arbor determines the total synaptic input a neuron can receive 1-3
, and influences the types and distribution of these inputs 4-6
. Altered patterns of dendritic growth and plasticity are associated with impaired neurobehavioral function in experimental models 7
, and are thought to contribute to clinical symptoms observed in both neurodevelopmental disorders 8-10
and neurodegenerative diseases 11-13
. Such observations underscore the functional importance of precisely regulating dendritic morphology, and suggest that identifying mechanisms that control dendritic growth will not only advance understanding of how neuronal connectivity is regulated during normal development, but may also provide insight on novel therapeutic strategies for diverse neurological diseases.
Mechanistic studies of dendritic growth would be greatly facilitated by the availability of a model system that allows neurons to be experimentally switched from a state in which they do not extend dendrites to one in which they elaborate a dendritic arbor comparable to that of their in vivo
counterparts. Primary cultures of sympathetic neurons dissociated from the superior cervical ganglia (SCG) of perinatal rodents provide such a model. When cultured in defined medium in the absence of serum and ganglionic glial cells, sympathetic neurons extend a single process which is axonal, and this unipolar state persists for weeks to months in culture 14,15
. However, the addition of either bone morphogenetic protein-7 (BMP-7) 16,17
or Matrigel 18
to the culture medium triggers these neurons to extend multiple processes that meet the morphologic, biochemical and functional criteria for dendrites. Sympathetic neurons dissociated from the SCG of perinatal rodents and grown under defined conditions are a homogenous population of neurons 19
that respond uniformly to the dendrite-promoting activity of Matrigel, BMP-7 and other BMPs of the decapentaplegic (dpp) and 60A subfamilies 17,18,20,21
. Importantly, Matrigel- and BMP-induced dendrite formation occurs in the absence of changes in cell survival or axonal growth 17,18
Here, we describe how to set up dissociated cultures of sympathetic neurons derived from the SCG of perinatal rats so that they are responsive to the selective dendrite-promoting activity of Matrigel or BMPs.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), Matrigel, dendrite, dendritogenesis, neuronal morphogenesis, sympathetic neurons
The Analysis of Purkinje Cell Dendritic Morphology in Organotypic Slice Cultures
Institutions: University of Basel.
Purkinje cells are an attractive model system for studying dendritic development, because they have an impressive dendritic tree which is strictly oriented in the sagittal plane and develops mostly in the postnatal period in small rodents 3
. Furthermore, several antibodies are available which selectively and intensively label Purkinje cells including all processes, with anti-Calbindin D28K being the most widely used. For viewing of dendrites in living cells, mice expressing EGFP selectively in Purkinje cells 11
are available through Jackson labs. Organotypic cerebellar slice cultures cells allow easy experimental manipulation of Purkinje cell dendritic development because most of the dendritic expansion of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is actually taking place during the culture period 4
. We present here a short, reliable and easy protocol for viewing and analyzing the dendritic morphology of Purkinje cells grown in organotypic cerebellar slice cultures. For many purposes, a quantitative evaluation of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is desirable. We focus here on two parameters, dendritic tree size and branch point numbers, which can be rapidly and easily determined from anti-calbindin stained cerebellar slice cultures. These two parameters yield a reliable and sensitive measure of changes of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree. Using the example of treatments with the protein kinase C (PKC) activator PMA and the metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 (mGluR1) we demonstrate how differences in the dendritic development are visualized and quantitatively assessed. The combination of the presence of an extensive dendritic tree, selective and intense immunostaining methods, organotypic slice cultures which cover the period of dendritic growth and a mouse model with Purkinje cell specific EGFP expression make Purkinje cells a powerful model system for revealing the mechanisms of dendritic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, dendritic development, dendritic branching, cerebellum, Purkinje cells
Gene-gun Transfection of Hippocampal Neurons
Institutions: Brown University.
Neuroscience, Issue 1, brain, hippocampus, neuron, transfection, gene-gun
Propagation of Human Embryonic Stem (ES) Cells
Institutions: MGH - Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, ES, embryonic stem cells, tissue culture