Laser axotomy followed by time-lapse microscopy is a sensitive assay for axon regeneration phenotypes in C. elegans1. The main difficulty of this assay is the perceived cost ($25-100K) and technical expertise required for implementing a laser ablation system2,3. However, solid-state pulse lasers of modest costs (<$10K) can provide robust performance for laser ablation in transparent preparations where target axons are "close" to the tissue surface. Construction and alignment of a system can be accomplished in a day. The optical path provided by light from the focused condenser to the ablation laser provides a convenient alignment guide. An intermediate module with all optics removed can be dedicated to the ablation laser and assures that no optical elements need be moved during a laser ablation session. A dichroic in the intermediate module allows simultaneous imaging and laser ablation. Centering the laser beam to the outgoing beam from the focused microscope condenser lens guides the initial alignment of the system. A variety of lenses are used to condition and expand the laser beam to fill the back aperture of the chosen objective lens. Final alignment and testing is performed with a front surface mirrored glass slide target. Laser power is adjusted to give a minimum size ablation spot (<1um). The ablation spot is centered with fine adjustments of the last kinematically mounted mirror to cross hairs fixed in the imaging window. Laser power for axotomy will be approximately 10X higher than needed for the minimum ablation spot on the target slide (this may vary with the target you use). Worms can be immobilized for laser axotomy and time-lapse imaging by mounting on agarose pads (or in microfluidic chambers4). Agarose pads are easily made with 10% agarose in balanced saline melted in a microwave. A drop of molten agarose is placed on a glass slide and flattened with another glass slide into a pad approximately 200 um thick (a single layer of time tape on adjacent slides is used as a spacer). A "Sharpie" cap is used to cut out a uniformed diameter circular pad of 13mm. Anesthetic (1ul Muscimol 20mM) and Microspheres (Chris Fang-Yen personal communication) (1ul 2.65% Polystyrene 0.1 um in water) are added to the center of the pad followed by 3-5 worms oriented so they are lying on their left sides. A glass coverslip is applied and then Vaseline is used to seal the coverslip and prevent evaporation of the sample.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
In vivo Neuronal Calcium Imaging in C. elegans
Institutions: Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University Photonics Center.
The nematode worm C. elegans
is an ideal model organism for relatively simple, low cost neuronal imaging in vivo
. Its small transparent body and simple, well-characterized nervous system allows identification and fluorescence imaging of any neuron within the intact animal. Simple immobilization techniques with minimal impact on the animal's physiology allow extended time-lapse imaging. The development of genetically-encoded calcium sensitive fluorophores such as cameleon 1
and GCaMP 2
allow in vivo
imaging of neuronal calcium relating both cell physiology and neuronal activity. Numerous transgenic strains expressing these fluorophores in specific neurons are readily available or can be constructed using well-established techniques. Here, we describe detailed procedures for measuring calcium dynamics within a single neuron in vivo
using both GCaMP and cameleon. We discuss advantages and disadvantages of both as well as various methods of sample preparation (animal immobilization) and image analysis. Finally, we present results from two experiments: 1) Using GCaMP to measure the sensory response of a specific neuron to an external electrical field and 2) Using cameleon to measure the physiological calcium response of a neuron to traumatic laser damage. Calcium imaging techniques such as these are used extensively in C. elegans
and have been extended to measurements in freely moving animals, multiple neurons simultaneously and comparison across genetic backgrounds. C. elegans
presents a robust and flexible system for in vivo
neuronal imaging with advantages over other model systems in technical simplicity and cost.
Developmental Biology, Issue 74, Physiology, Biophysics, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Developmental Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, calcium imaging, genetically encoded calcium indicators, cameleon, GCaMP, neuronal activity, time-lapse imaging, laser ablation, optical neurophysiology, neurophysiology, neurons, animal model
A Method for Culturing Embryonic C. elegans Cells
Institutions: University of Miami .
is a powerful model system, in which genetic and molecular techniques are easily applicable. Until recently though, techniques that require direct access to cells and isolation of specific cell types, could not be applied in C. elegans
. This limitation was due to the fact that tissues are confined within a pressurized cuticle which is not easily digested by treatment with enzymes and/or detergents. Based on early pioneer work by Laird Bloom, Christensen and colleagues 1
developed a robust method for culturing C. elegans
embryonic cells in large scale. Eggs are isolated from gravid adults by treatment with bleach/NaOH and subsequently treated with chitinase to remove the eggshells. Embryonic cells are then dissociated by manual pipetting and plated onto substrate-covered glass in serum-enriched media. Within 24 hr of isolation cells begin to differentiate by changing morphology and by expressing cell specific markers. C. elegans
cells cultured using this method survive for up 2 weeks in vitro
and have been used for electrophysiological, immunochemical, and imaging analyses as well as they have been sorted and used for microarray profiling.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Eukaryota, Biological Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, C. elegans, cell culture, embryonic cells
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans
is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans
is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo
. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo
. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans
provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo
in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans
embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans
is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo
due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
In this protocol, we present the required materials, and the procedure for making modified C. elegans
Habituation and Reproduction media (mCeHR). Additionally, the steps for exposing and acclimatizing C. elegans
grown on E. coli
to axenic liquid media are described. Finally, downstream experiments that utilize axenic C. elegans
illustrate the benefits of this procedure. The ability to analyze and determine C. elegans
nutrient requirement was illustrated by growing N2 wild type worms in axenic liquid media with varying heme concentrations. This procedure can be replicated with other nutrients to determine the optimal concentration for worm growth and development or, to determine the toxicological effects of drug treatments. The effects of varied heme concentrations on the growth of wild type worms were determined through qualitative microscopic observation and by quantitating the number of worms that grew in each heme concentration. In addition, the effect of varied nutrient concentrations can be assayed by utilizing worms that express fluorescent sensors that respond to changes in the nutrient of interest. Furthermore, a large number of worms were easily produced for the generation of transgenic C. elegans
using microparticle bombardment.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, C. elegans, axenic media, transgenics, microparticle bombardment, heme, nutrition
Methods for Skin Wounding and Assays for Wound Responses in C. elegans
Institutions: University of California, San Diego.
The C. elegans
epidermis and cuticle form a simple yet sophisticated skin layer that can repair localized damage resulting from wounding. Studies of wound responses and repair in this model have illuminated our understanding of the cytoskeletal and genomic responses to tissue damage. The two most commonly used methods to wound the C. elegans
adult skin are pricks with microinjection needles, and local laser irradiation. Needle wounding locally disrupts the cuticle, epidermis, and associated extracellular matrix, and may also damage internal tissues. Laser irradiation results in more localized damage. Wounding triggers a succession of readily assayed responses including elevated epidermal Ca2+
(seconds-minutes), formation and closure of an actin-containing ring at the wound site (1-2 hr), elevated transcription of antimicrobial peptide genes (2-24 hr), and scar formation. Essentially all wild type adult animals survive wounding, whereas mutants defective in wound repair or other responses show decreased survival. Detailed protocols for needle and laser wounding, and assays for quantitation and visualization of wound responses and repair processes (Ca dynamics, actin dynamics, antimicrobial peptide induction, and survival) are presented.
Cellular Biology, Issue 94, wound healing, epidermis, microinjection, laser, green fluorescent protein (GFP), actin, innate immune response, calcium, antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), survival
Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans
has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans
triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans
. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
Quantitative Locomotion Study of Freely Swimming Micro-organisms Using Laser Diffraction
Institutions: Vassar College, Vassar College.
Soil and aquatic microscopic organisms live and behave in a complex three-dimensional environment. Most studies of microscopic organism behavior, in contrast, have been conducted using microscope-based approaches, which limit the movement and behavior to a narrow, nearly two-dimensional focal field.1
We present a novel analytical approach that provides real-time analysis of freely swimming C. elegans
in a cuvette without dependence on microscope-based equipment. This approach consists of tracking the temporal periodicity of diffraction patterns generated by directing laser light through the cuvette. We measure oscillation frequencies for freely swimming nematodes.
Analysis of the far-field diffraction patterns reveals clues about the waveforms of the nematodes. Diffraction is the process of light bending around an object. In this case light is diffracted by the organisms. The light waves interfere and can form a diffraction pattern. A far-field, or Fraunhofer, diffraction pattern is formed if the screen-to-object distance is much larger than the diffracting object. In this case, the diffraction pattern can be calculated (modeled) using a Fourier transform.2
are free-living soil-dwelling nematodes that navigate in three dimensions. They move both on a solid matrix like soil or agar in a sinusoidal locomotory pattern called crawling and in liquid in a different pattern called swimming.3
The roles played by sensory information provided by mechanosensory, chemosensory, and thermosensory cells that govern plastic changes in locomotory patterns and switches in patterns are only beginning to be elucidated.4
We describe an optical approach to measuring nematode locomotion in three dimensions that does not require a microscope and will enable us to begin to explore the complexities of nematode locomotion under different conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, diffraction, video analysis, freely swimming, autocorrelation, laser, locomotion
Using RNA-mediated Interference Feeding Strategy to Screen for Genes Involved in Body Size Regulation in the Nematode C. elegans
Institutions: Borough of Manhattan Community College, City Universtiy of New York (CUNY), Queens College, The City University of New York (CUNY), Queens College, The City University of New York (CUNY).
Double-strand RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) is an effective strategy to knock down target gene expression1-3
. It has been applied to many model systems including plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. There are various methods to achieve RNAi in vivo4,5
. For example, the target gene may be transformed into an RNAi vector, and then either permanently or transiently transformed into cell lines or primary cells to achieve gene knockdown effects; alternatively synthesized double-strand oligonucleotides from specific target genes (RNAi oligos) may be transiently transformed into cell lines or primary cells to silence target genes; or synthesized double-strand RNA molecules may be microinjected into an organism. Since the nematode C. elegans
uses bacteria as a food source, feeding the animals with bacteria expressing double-strand RNA against target genes provides a viable strategy6
. Here we present an RNAi feeding method to score body size phenotype. Body size in C. elegans
is regulated primarily by the TGF- β - like ligand DBL-1, so this assay is appropriate for identification of TGF-β signaling components7
. We used different strains including two RNAi hypersensitive strains to repeat the RNAi feeding experiments. Our results showed that rrf-3
strain gave us the best expected RNAi phenotype. The method is easy to perform, reproducible, and easily quantified. Furthermore, our protocol minimizes the use of specialized equipment, so it is suitable for smaller laboratories or those at predominantly undergraduate institutions.
Developmental Biology, Issue 72, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Basic Protocols, RNAi feeding technique, genetic screen, TGF-beta, body size, C. elegans, Caenorhabditis elegans, RNA-mediated Interference, RNAi, RNA, DNA, gene expression knock down, animal model
C. elegans Tracking and Behavioral Measurement
Institutions: University of Toronto, Vrije Universiteit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, University of Toronto.
We have developed instrumentation, image processing, and data analysis techniques to quantify the locomotory behavior of C. elegans
as it crawls on the surface of an agar plate. For the study of the genetic, biochemical, and neuronal basis of behavior, C. elegans
is an ideal organism because it is genetically tractable, amenable to microscopy, and shows a number of complex behaviors, including taxis, learning, and social interaction1,2
. Behavioral analysis based on tracking the movements of worms as they crawl on agar plates have been particularly useful in the study of sensory behavior3
, and general mutational phenotyping5
. Our system works by moving the camera and illumination system as the worms crawls on a stationary agar plate, which ensures no mechanical stimulus is transmitted to the worm. Our tracking system is easy to use and includes a semi-automatic calibration feature. A challenge of all video tracking systems is that it generates an enormous amount of data that is intrinsically high dimensional. Our image processing and data analysis programs deal with this challenge by reducing the worms shape into a set of independent components, which comprehensively reconstruct the worms behavior as a function of only 3-4 dimensions6,7
. As an example of the process we show that the worm enters and exits its reversal state in a phase specific manner.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physics, Biophysics, Anatomy, Microscopy, Ethology, Behavior, Machine Vision, C. elegans, animal model
Simple Microfluidic Devices for in vivo Imaging of C. elegans, Drosophila and Zebrafish
Institutions: NCBS-TIFR, TIFR.
Micro fabricated fluidic devices provide an accessible micro-environment for in vivo
studies on small organisms. Simple fabrication processes are available for microfluidic devices using soft lithography techniques 1-3
. Microfluidic devices have been used for sub-cellular imaging 4,5
, in vivo
laser microsurgery 2,6
and cellular imaging 4,7
. In vivo
imaging requires immobilization of organisms. This has been achieved using suction 5,8
, tapered channels 6,7,9
, deformable membranes 2-4,10
, suction with additional cooling 5
, anesthetic gas 11
, temperature sensitive gels 12
, cyanoacrylate glue 13
and anesthetics such as levamisole 14,15
. Commonly used anesthetics influence synaptic transmission 16,17
and are known to have detrimental effects on sub-cellular neuronal transport 4
. In this study we demonstrate a membrane based poly-dimethyl-siloxane (PDMS) device that allows anesthetic free immobilization of intact genetic model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans
larvae and zebrafish larvae. These model organisms are suitable for in vivo
studies in microfluidic devices because of their small diameters and optically transparent or translucent bodies. Body diameters range from ~10 μm to ~800 μm for early larval stages of C. elegans
and zebrafish larvae and require microfluidic devices of different sizes to achieve complete immobilization for high resolution time-lapse imaging. These organisms are immobilized using pressure applied by compressed nitrogen gas through a liquid column and imaged using an inverted microscope. Animals released from the trap return to normal locomotion within 10 min.
We demonstrate four applications of time-lapse imaging in C. elegans
namely, imaging mitochondrial transport in neurons, pre-synaptic vesicle transport in a transport-defective mutant, glutamate receptor transport and Q neuroblast cell division. Data obtained from such movies show that microfluidic immobilization is a useful and accurate means of acquiring in vivo
data of cellular and sub-cellular events when compared to anesthetized animals (Figure 1J
and 3C-F 4
Device dimensions were altered to allow time-lapse imaging of different stages of C. elegans
, first instar Drosophila
larvae and zebrafish larvae. Transport of vesicles marked with synaptotagmin tagged with GFP (syt.eGFP) in sensory neurons shows directed motion of synaptic vesicle markers expressed in cholinergic sensory neurons in intact first instar Drosophila
larvae. A similar device has been used to carry out time-lapse imaging of heartbeat in ~30 hr post fertilization (hpf) zebrafish larvae. These data show that the simple devices we have developed can be applied to a variety of model systems to study several cell biological and developmental phenomena in vivo
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience, Microfluidics, C. elegans, Drosophila larvae, zebrafish larvae, anesthetic, pre-synaptic vesicle transport, dendritic transport of glutamate receptors, mitochondrial transport, synaptotagmin transport, heartbeat
Time-lapse Microscopy of Early Embryogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans
Institutions: University of Alabama in Huntsville, NIDDK-National Institutes of Health.
has often been used as a model system in studies of early developmental processes. The transparency of the
embryos, the genetic resources, and the relative ease of transformation are qualities that make C. elegans
an excellent model for early embryogenesis. Laser-based
confocal microscopy and fluorescently labeled tags allow researchers to follow specific cellular structures and proteins in the developing embryo. For example,
one can follow specific organelles, such as lysosomes or mitochondria, using fluorescently labeled dyes. These dyes can be delivered to the early embryo by means
of microinjection into the adult gonad. Also, the localization of specific proteins can be followed using fluorescent protein tags. Examples are presented here
demonstrating the use of a fluorescent lysosomal dye as well as fluorescently tagged histone and ubiquitin proteins. The labeled histone is used to visualize
the DNA and thus identify the stage of the cell cycle. GFP-tagged ubiquitin reveals the dynamics of ubiquitinated vesicles in the early embryo. Observations
of labeled lysosomes and GFP:: ubiquitin can be used to determine if there is colocalization between ubiquitinated vesicles and lysosomes. A technique for
the microinjection of the lysosomal dye is presented. Techniques for generating transgenenic strains are presented elsewhere (1, 2). For imaging, embryos
are cut out of adult hermaphrodite nematodes and mounted onto 2% agarose pads followed by time-lapse microscopy on a standard laser scanning confocal
microscope or a spinning disk confocal microscope. This methodology provides for the high resolution visualization of early embryogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 54, Live embryo imaging, fertilization, meiosis, nematode, fluorescent protein, lysotracker, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans
In vivo Laser Axotomy in C. elegans
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Neurons communicate with other cells via axons and dendrites, slender membrane extensions that contain pre- or post-synaptic specializations. If a neuron is damaged by injury or disease, it may regenerate. Cell-intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence the ability of a neuron to regenerate and restore function. Recently, the nematode C. elegans
has emerged as an excellent model organism to identify genes and signaling pathways that influence the regeneration of neurons1-6
. The main way to initiate neuronal regeneration in C. elegans
is laser-mediated cutting, or axotomy. During axotomy, a fluorescently-labeled neuronal process is severed using high-energy pulses. Initially, neuronal regeneration in C. elegans
was examined using an amplified femtosecond laser5
. However, subsequent regeneration studies have shown that a conventional pulsed laser can be used to accurately sever neurons in vivo
and elicit a similar regenerative response1,3,7
We present a protocol for performing in vivo
laser axotomy in the worm using a MicroPoint pulsed laser, a turnkey system that is readily available and that has been widely used for targeted cell ablation. We describe aligning the laser, mounting the worms, cutting specific neurons, and assessing subsequent regeneration. The system provides the ability to cut large numbers of neurons in multiple worms during one experiment. Thus, laser axotomy as described herein is an efficient system for initiating and analyzing the process of regeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, C. elegans, axotomy, regeneration, GABA neurons, pulsed laser, in vivo
C. elegans Positive Butanone Learning, Short-term, and Long-term Associative Memory Assays
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
The memory of experiences and learned information is critical for organisms to make choices that aid their survival. C. elegans
navigates its environment through neuron-specific detection of food and chemical odors1, 2
, and can associate nutritive states with chemical odors3
, and the pathogenicity of a food source5
Here, we describe assays of C. elegans
associative learning and short- and long-term associative memory. We modified an aversive olfactory learning paradigm6
to instead produce a positive response; the assay involves starving ~400 worms, then feeding the worms in the presence of the AWC neuron-sensed volatile chemoattractant butanone at a concentration that elicits a low chemotactic index (similar to Toroyama et al.7
). A standard population chemotaxis assay1 tests the worms' attraction to the odorant immediately or minutes to hours after conditioning.
After conditioning, wild-type animals' chemotaxis to butanone increases ~0.6 Chemotaxis Index units, its "Learning Index". Associative learning is dependent on the presence of both food and butanone during training. Pairing food and butanone for a single conditioning period ("massed training") produces short-term associative memory that lasts ~2 hours. Multiple conditioning periods with rest periods between ("spaced training") yields long-term associative memory (<40 hours), and is dependent on the cAMP Response Element Binding protein (CREB),6
a transcription factor required for long-term memory across species.8
Our protocol also includes image analysis methods for quick and accurate determination of chemotaxis indices. High-contrast images of animals on chemotaxis assay plates are captured and analyzed by worm counting software in MatLab. The software corrects for uneven background using a morphological tophat transformation.9
Otsu's method is then used to determine a threshold to separate worms from the background.10
Very small particles are removed automatically and larger non-worm regions (plate edges or agar punches) are removed by manual selection. The software then estimates the size of single worm by ignoring regions that are above a specified maximum size and taking the median size of the remaining regions. The number of worms is then estimated by dividing the total area identified as occupied by worms by the estimated size of a single worm.
We have found that learning and short- and long-term memory can be distinguished, and that these processes share similar key molecules with higher organisms.6,8
Our assays can quickly test novel candidate genes or molecules that affect learning and short- or long-term memory in C. elegans
that are relevant across species.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, memory, associative learning, C. elegans, chemotaxis, spaced training, behavior
Application of a C. elegans Dopamine Neuron Degeneration Assay for the Validation of Potential Parkinson's Disease Genes
Institutions: University of Alabama.
Improvements to the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) are dependent upon knowledge about susceptibility factors that render populations at risk. In the process of attempting to identify novel genetic factors associated with PD, scientists have generated many lists of candidate genes, polymorphisms, and proteins that represent important advances, but these leads remain mechanistically undefined. Our work is aimed toward significantly narrowing such lists by exploiting the advantages of a simple animal model system. While humans have billions of neurons, the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans has precisely 302, of which only eight produce dopamine (DA) in hemaphrodites. Expression of a human gene encoding the PD-associated protein, alpha-synuclein, in C. elegans DA neurons results in dosage and age-dependent neurodegeneration.
Worms expressing human alpha-synuclein in DA neurons are isogenic and express both GFP and human alpha-synuclein under the DA transporter promoter (Pdat-1). The presence of GFP serves as a readily visualized marker for following DA neurodegeneration in these animals. We initially demonstrated that alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration could be rescued in these animals by torsinA, a protein with molecular chaperone activity 1
. Further, candidate PD-related genes identified in our lab via large-scale RNAi screening efforts using an alpha-synuclein misfolding assay were then over-expressed in C. elegans DA neurons. We determined that five of seven genes tested represented significant candidate modulators of PD as they rescued alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration 2
. Additionally, the Lindquist Lab (this issue of JoVE) has performed yeast screens whereby alpha-synuclein-dependent toxicity is used as a readout for genes that can enhance or suppress cytotoxicity. We subsequently examined the yeast candidate genes in our C. elegans alpha-synuclein-induced neurodegeneration assay and successfully validated many of these targets 3, 4
Our methodology involves generation of a C. elegans DA neuron-specific expression vector using recombinational cloning of candidate gene cDNAs under control of the Pdat-1 promoter. These plasmids are then microinjected in wild-type (N2) worms, along with a selectable marker for successful transformation. Multiple stable transgenic lines producing the candidate protein in DA neurons are obtained and then independently crossed into the alpha-synuclein degenerative strain and assessed for neurodegeneration, at both the animal and individual neuron level, over the course of aging.
Neuroscience, Issue 17, C. elegans, Parkinson's disease, neuroprotection, alpha-synuclein, Translational Research
Generation of Stable Transgenic C. elegans Using Microinjection
Institutions: University of Alabama.
Transgenic Caenorhabditis elegans can be readily created via microinjection of a DNA plasmid solution into the gonad 1
. The plasmid DNA rearranges to form extrachromosomal concatamers that are stably inherited, though not with the same efficiency as actual chromosomes 2
. A gene of interest is co-injected with an obvious phenotypic marker, such as rol-6 or GFP, to allow selection of transgenic animals under a dissecting microscope. The exogenous gene may be expressed from its native promoter for cellular localization studies. Alternatively, the transgene can be driven by a different tissue-specific promoter to assess the role of the gene product in that particular cell or tissue. This technique efficiently drives gene expression in all tissues of C. elegans except for the germline or early embryo 3
. Creation of transgenic animals is widely utilized for a range of experimental paradigms. This video demonstrates the microinjection procedure to generate transgenic worms. Furthermore, selection and maintenance of stable transgenic C. elegans lines is described.
Developmental Biology, Issue 18, C. elegans, microinjection, transgenic, stable lines