Analysis of neuromuscular junction morphology can give important insight into the physiological status of a given motor neuron. Analysis of thin flat muscles can offer significant advantage over traditionally used thicker muscles, such as those from the hind limb (e.g. gastrocnemius). Thin muscles allow for comprehensive overview of the entire innervation pattern for a given muscle, which in turn permits identification of selectively vulnerable pools of motor neurons. These muscles also allow analysis of parameters such as motor unit size, axonal branching, and terminal/nodal sprouting. A common obstacle in using such muscles is gaining the technical expertise to dissect them. In this video, we detail the protocol for dissecting the transversus abdominis (TVA) muscle from young mice and performing immunofluorescence to visualize axons and neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). We demonstrate that this technique gives a complete overview of the innervation pattern of the TVA muscle and can be used to investigate NMJ pathology in a mouse model of the childhood motor neuron disease, spinal muscular atrophy.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
A Functional Motor Unit in the Culture Dish: Co-culture of Spinal Cord Explants and Muscle Cells
Institutions: University of Basel.
Human primary muscle cells cultured aneurally in monolayer rarely contract spontaneously because, in the absence of a nerve component, cell differentiation is limited and motor neuron stimulation is missing1
. These limitations hamper the in vitro
study of many neuromuscular diseases in cultured muscle cells. Importantly, the experimental constraints of monolayered, cultured muscle cells can be overcome by functional innervation of myofibers with spinal cord explants in co-cultures.
Here, we show the different steps required to achieve an efficient, proper innervation of human primary muscle cells, leading to complete differentiation and fiber contraction according to the method developed by Askanas2
. To do so, muscle cells are co-cultured with spinal cord explants of rat embryos at ED 13.5, with the dorsal root ganglia still attached to the spinal cord slices. After a few days, the muscle fibers start to contract and eventually become cross-striated through innervation by functional neurites projecting from the spinal cord explants that connecting to the muscle cells. This structure can be maintained for many months, simply by regular exchange of the culture medium.
The applications of this invaluable tool are numerous, as it represents a functional model for multidisciplinary analyses of human muscle development and innervation. In fact, a complete de novo
neuromuscular junction installation occurs in a culture dish, allowing an easy measurement of many parameters at each step, in a fundamental and physiological context.
Just to cite a few examples, genomic and/or proteomic studies can be performed directly on the co-cultures. Furthermore, pre- and post-synaptic effects can be specifically and separately assessed at the neuromuscular junction, because both components come from different species, rat and human, respectively. The nerve-muscle co-culture can also be performed with human muscle cells isolated from patients suffering from muscle or neuromuscular diseases3
, and thus can be used as a screening tool for candidate drugs. Finally, no special equipment but a regular BSL2 facility is needed to reproduce a functional motor unit in a culture dish. This method thus is valuable for both the muscle as well as the neuromuscular research communities for physiological and mechanistic studies of neuromuscular function, in a normal and disease context.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Human primary muscle cells, embryonic spinal cord explants, neurites, innervation, contraction, cell culture
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Transgenic Rodent Assay for Quantifying Male Germ Cell Mutant Frequency
Institutions: Environmental Health Centre.
mutations arise mostly in the male germline and may contribute to adverse health outcomes in subsequent generations. Traditional methods for assessing the induction of germ cell mutations require the use of large numbers of animals, making them impractical. As such, germ cell mutagenicity is rarely assessed during chemical testing and risk assessment. Herein, we describe an in vivo
male germ cell mutation assay using a transgenic rodent model that is based on a recently approved Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) test guideline. This method uses an in vitro
positive selection assay to measure in vivo
mutations induced in a transgenic λgt10 vector bearing a reporter gene directly in the germ cells of exposed males. We further describe how the detection of mutations in the transgene recovered from germ cells can be used to characterize the stage-specific sensitivity of the various spermatogenic cell types to mutagen exposure by controlling three experimental parameters: the duration of exposure (administration time), the time between exposure and sample collection (sampling time), and the cell population collected for analysis. Because a large number of germ cells can be assayed from a single male, this method has superior sensitivity compared with traditional methods, requires fewer animals and therefore much less time and resources.
Genetics, Issue 90, sperm, spermatogonia, male germ cells, spermatogenesis, de novo mutation, OECD TG 488, transgenic rodent mutation assay, N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea, genetic toxicology
Behavioral and Locomotor Measurements Using an Open Field Activity Monitoring System for Skeletal Muscle Diseases
Institutions: Children's National Medical Center, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The open field activity monitoring system comprehensively assesses locomotor and behavioral activity levels of mice. It is a useful tool for assessing locomotive impairment in animal models of neuromuscular disease and efficacy of therapeutic drugs that may improve locomotion and/or muscle function. The open field activity measurement provides a different measure than muscle strength, which is commonly assessed by grip strength measurements. It can also show how drugs may affect other body systems as well when used with additional outcome measures. In addition, measures such as total distance traveled mirror the 6 min walk test, a clinical trial outcome measure. However, open field activity monitoring is also associated with significant challenges: Open field activity measurements vary according to animal strain, age, sex, and circadian rhythm. In addition, room temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, and even odor can affect assessment outcomes. Overall, this manuscript provides a well-tested and standardized open field activity SOP for preclinical trials in animal models of neuromuscular diseases. We provide a discussion of important considerations, typical results, data analysis, and detail the strengths and weaknesses of open field testing. In addition, we provide recommendations for optimal study design when using open field activity in a preclinical trial.
Behavior, Issue 91, open field activity, functional testing, behavioral testing, skeletal muscle, congenital muscular dystrophy, muscular dystrophy
Tissue Triage and Freezing for Models of Skeletal Muscle Disease
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, The Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, University of Kentucky, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Cure Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, Joshua Frase Foundation, University of Washington, University of Arizona.
Skeletal muscle is a unique tissue because of its structure and function, which requires specific protocols for tissue collection to obtain optimal results from functional, cellular, molecular, and pathological evaluations. Due to the subtlety of some pathological abnormalities seen in congenital muscle disorders and the potential for fixation to interfere with the recognition of these features, pathological evaluation of frozen muscle is preferable to fixed muscle when evaluating skeletal muscle for congenital muscle disease. Additionally, the potential to produce severe freezing artifacts in muscle requires specific precautions when freezing skeletal muscle for histological examination that are not commonly used when freezing other tissues. This manuscript describes a protocol for rapid freezing of skeletal muscle using isopentane (2-methylbutane) cooled with liquid nitrogen to preserve optimal skeletal muscle morphology. This procedure is also effective for freezing tissue intended for genetic or protein expression studies. Furthermore, we have integrated our freezing protocol into a broader procedure that also describes preferred methods for the short term triage of tissue for (1) single fiber functional studies and (2) myoblast cell culture, with a focus on the minimum effort necessary to collect tissue and transport it to specialized research or reference labs to complete these studies. Overall, this manuscript provides an outline of how fresh tissue can be effectively distributed for a variety of phenotypic studies and thereby provides standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pathological studies related to congenital muscle disease.
Basic Protocol, Issue 89,
Tissue, Freezing, Muscle, Isopentane, Pathology, Functional Testing, Cell Culture
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
The FlyBar: Administering Alcohol to Flies
Institutions: Florida State University, University of Houston.
Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster
) are an established model for both alcohol research and circadian biology. Recently, we showed that the circadian clock modulates alcohol sensitivity, but not the formation of tolerance. Here, we describe our protocol in detail. Alcohol is administered to the flies using the FlyBar. In this setup, saturated alcohol vapor is mixed with humidified air in set proportions, and administered to the flies in four tubes simultaneously. Flies are reared under standardized conditions in order to minimize variation between the replicates. Three-day old flies of different genotypes or treatments are used for the experiments, preferably by matching flies of two different time points (e.g.
, CT 5 and CT 17) making direct comparisons possible. During the experiment, flies are exposed for 1 hr to the pre-determined percentage of alcohol vapor and the number of flies that exhibit the Loss of Righting reflex (LoRR) or sedation are counted every 5 min. The data can be analyzed using three different statistical approaches. The first is to determine the time at which 50% of the flies have lost their righting reflex and use an Analysis of the Variance (ANOVA) to determine whether significant differences exist between time points. The second is to determine the percentage flies that show LoRR after a specified number of minutes, followed by an ANOVA analysis. The last method is to analyze the whole times series using multivariate statistics. The protocol can also be used for non-circadian experiments or comparisons between genotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, neuroscience, alcohol sensitivity, Drosophila, Circadian, sedation, biological rhythms, undergraduate research
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Identifying DNA Mutations in Purified Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cells
Institutions: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In recent years, it has become apparent that genomic instability is tightly related to many developmental disorders, cancers, and aging. Given that stem cells are responsible for ensuring tissue homeostasis and repair throughout life, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the stem cell population is critical for preserving genomic integrity of tissues. Therefore, significant interest has arisen in assessing the impact of endogenous and environmental factors on genomic integrity in stem cells and their progeny, aiming to understand the etiology of stem-cell based diseases.
transgenic mice carry a recoverable λ phage vector encoding the LacI
reporter system, in which the LacI
gene serves as the mutation reporter. The result of a mutated LacI
gene is the production of β-galactosidase that cleaves a chromogenic substrate, turning it blue. The LacI
reporter system is carried in all cells, including stem/progenitor cells and can easily be recovered and used to subsequently infect E. coli
. After incubating infected E. coli
on agarose that contains the correct substrate, plaques can be scored; blue plaques indicate a mutant LacI
gene, while clear plaques harbor wild-type. The frequency of blue (among clear) plaques indicates the mutant frequency in the original cell population the DNA was extracted from. Sequencing the mutant LacI
gene will show the location of the mutations in the gene and the type of mutation.
transgenic mouse model is well-established as an in vivo
mutagenesis assay. Moreover, the mice and the reagents for the assay are commercially available. Here we describe in detail how this model can be adapted to measure the frequency of spontaneously occurring DNA mutants in stem cell-enriched Lin-
(LSK) cells and other subpopulations of the hematopoietic system.
Infection, Issue 84, In vivo mutagenesis, hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, LacI mouse model, DNA mutations, E. coli
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
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Reproducible Mouse Sciatic Nerve Crush and Subsequent Assessment of Regeneration by Whole Mount Muscle Analysis
Institutions: Temple University .
Regeneration in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) is widely studied both for its relevance to human disease and to understand the robust regenerative response mounted by PNS neurons thereby possibly illuminating the failures of CNS regeneration1
. Sciatic nerve crush (axonotmesis) is one of the most common models of peripheral nerve injury in rodents2
. Crushing interrupts all axons but Schwann cell basal laminae are preserved so that regeneration is optimal3,4
. This allows the investigator to study precisely the ability of a growing axon to interact with both the Schwann cell and basal laminae4
. Rats have generally been the preferred animal models for experimental nerve crush. They are widely available and their lesioned sciatic nerve provides a reasonable approximation of human nerve lesions5,4
. Though smaller in size than rat nerve, the mouse nerve has many similar qualities. Most importantly though, mouse models are increasingly valuable because of the wide availability of transgenic lines now allows for a detailed dissection of the individual molecules critical for nerve regeneration6, 7
. Prior investigators have used multiple methods to produce a nerve crush or injury including simple angled forceps, chilled forceps, hemostatic forceps, vascular clamps, and investigator-designed clamps8,9,10,11,12
. Investigators have also used various methods of marking the injury site including suture, carbon particles and fluorescent beads13,14,1
. We describe our method to obtain a reproducibly complete sciatic nerve crush with accurate and persistent marking of the crush-site using a fine hemostatic forceps and subsequent carbon crush-site marking. As part of our description of the sciatic nerve crush procedure we have also included a relatively simple method of muscle whole mount we use to subsequently quantify regeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Sciatic nerve crush, regeneration, neuromuscular junction, muscle whole mount, mouse
Sequential Photo-bleaching to Delineate Single Schwann Cells at the Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: Technische Universität München, Technische Universität München, Technische Universität München, Technische Universität München.
Sequential photo-bleaching provides a non-invasive way to label individual SCs at the NMJ. The NMJ is the largest synapse of the mammalian nervous system and has served as guiding model to study synaptic structure and function. In mouse NMJs motor axon terminals form pretzel-like contact sites with muscle fibers. The motor axon and its terminal are sheathed by SCs. Over the past decades, several transgenic mice have been generated to visualize motor neurons and SCs, for example Thy1
Along motor axons, myelinating axonal SCs are arranged in non-overlapping internodes, separated by nodes of Ranvier, to enable saltatory action potential propagation. In contrast, terminal SCs at the synapse are specialized glial cells, which monitor and promote neurotransmission, digest debris and guide regenerating axons. NMJs are tightly covered by up to half a dozen non-myelinating terminal SCs - these, however, cannot be individually resolved by light microscopy, as they are in direct membrane contact3
Several approaches exist to individually visualize terminal SCs. None of these are flawless, though. For instance, dye filling, where single cells are impaled with a dye-filled microelectrode, requires destroying a labelled cell before filling a second one. This is not compatible with subsequent time-lapse recordings3
. Multi-spectral "Brainbow" labeling of SCs has been achieved by using combinatorial expression of fluorescent proteins4
. However, this technique requires combining several transgenes and is limited by the expression pattern of the promoters used. In the future, expression of "photo-switchable" proteins in SCs might be yet another alternative5
. Here we present sequential photo-bleaching, where single cells are bleached, and their image obtained by subtraction. We believe that this approach - due to its ease and versatility - represents a lasting addition to the neuroscientist's technology palette, especially as it can be used in vivo
and transferred to others cell types, anatomical sites or species6
In the following protocol, we detail the application of sequential bleaching and subsequent confocal time-lapse microscopy to terminal SCs in triangularis sterni muscle explants. This thin, superficial and easily dissected nerve-muscle preparation7,8
has proven useful for studies of NMJ development, physiology and pathology9
. Finally, we explain how the triangularis sterni muscle is prepared after fixation to perform correlated high-resolution confocal imaging, immunohistochemistry or ultrastructural examinations.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Immunology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Triangularis sterni, explant, Schwann cells, imaging, neuromuscular junction, immunohistochemistry, bleaching, muscle, nerve, mouse, animal model
Subcutaneous Administration of Muscarinic Antagonists and Triple-Immunostaining of the Levator Auris Longus Muscle in Mice
Institutions: Arcadia University, Temple University School of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
Hind limb muscles of rodents, such as gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior, are frequently used for in vivo
pharmacological studies of the signals essential for the formation and maintenance of mammalian NMJs. However, drug penetration into these muscles after subcutaneous or intramuscular administration is often incomplete or uneven and many NMJs can remain unaffected. Although systemic administration with devices such as mini-pumps can improve the spatiotemporal effects, the invasive nature of this approach can cause confounding inflammatory responses and/or direct muscle damage. Moreover, complete analysis of the NMJs in a hind limb muscle is challenging because it requires time-consuming serial sectioning and extensive immunostaining.
The mouse LAL is a thin, flat sheet of muscle located superficially on the dorsum of the neck. It is a fast-twitch muscle that functions to move the pinna. It contains rostral and caudal portions that originate from the midline of the cranium and extend laterally to the cartilaginous portion of each pinna. The muscle is supplied by a branch of the facial nerve that projects caudally as it exits the stylomastoid foramen. We and others have found LAL to be a convenient preparation that offers advantages for the investigation of both short and long-term in vivo
effects of drugs on NMJs and muscles. First, its superficial location facilitates multiple local applications of drugs under light anesthesia. Second, its thinness (2-3 layers of muscle fibers) permits visualization and analysis of almost all the NMJs within the muscle. Third, the ease of dissecting it with its nerve intact together with the pattern of its innervation permits supplementary electrophysiological analysis in vitro9,5
. Last, and perhaps most importantly, a small applied volume (˜50μl) easily covers the entire muscle surface, provides a uniform and prolonged exposure of all its NMJs to the drug and eliminates the need for a systemic approach1,8
Neuroscience, Issue 55, neuromuscular junction, immunohistochemistry, muscle, Schwann cells, acetylcholine receptors, confocal microscope
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro
using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro
. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo
. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo
tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro
and in vivo
and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo
. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls.
DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e.
voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e.
differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels.
In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
In vivo Imaging of Intact Drosophila Larvae at Sub-cellular Resolution
Institutions: University of Tübingen, University of Tübingen.
Recent improvements in optical imaging, genetically encoded fluorophores and genetic tools allowing efficient establishment of desired transgenic animal lines have enabled biological processes to be studied in the context of a living, and in some instances even behaving, organism. In this protocol we will describe how to anesthetize intact Drosophila
larvae, using the volatile anesthetic desflurane, to follow the development and plasticity of synaptic populations at sub-cellular resolution1-3
. While other useful methods to anesthetize Drosophila melanogaster
larvae have been previously described4,5,6,7,8
, the protocol presented herein demonstrates significant improvements due to the following combined key features: (1) A very high degree of anesthetization; even the heart beat is arrested allowing for lateral resolution of up to 150 nm1
, (2) a high survival rate of > 90% per anesthetization cycle, permitting the recording of more than five time-points over a period of hours to days2
and (3) a high sensitivity enabling us in 2 instances to study the dynamics of proteins expressed at physiological levels. In detail, we were able to visualize the postsynaptic glutamate receptor subunit GluR-IIA expressed via the endogenous promoter1
in stable transgenic lines and the exon trap line FasII-GFP1
. (4) In contrast to other methods4,7
the larvae can be imaged not only alive, but also intact (i.e. non-dissected) allowing observation to occur over a number of days1
. The accompanying video details the function of individual parts of the in vivo
, the correct mounting of the larvae, the anesthetization procedure, how to re-identify specific positions within a larva and the safe removal of the larvae from the imaging chamber.
Basic Protocols, Issue 43, In vivo, Imaging, Drosophila, Neuromuscular, Synapse, Development, Microscopy, Anesthetization, Desflurane
Physiological Recordings of High and Low Output NMJs on the Crayfish Leg Extensor Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
We explain in detail how to expose and conduct electrophysiological recordings of synaptic responses for high (phasic) and low (tonic) output motor neurons innervating the extensor muscle in the walking leg of a crayfish. Distinct differences are present in the physiology and morphology of the phasic and tonic nerve terminals. The tonic axon contains many more mitochondria, enabling it to take a vital stain more intensely than the phasic axon. The tonic terminals have varicosities, and the phasic terminal is filiform. The tonic terminals are low in synaptic efficacy but show dramatic facilitated responses. In contrast, the phasic terminals are high in quantal efficacy but show synaptic depression with high frequency stimulation. The quantal output is measured with a focal macropatch electrode placed directly over the visualized nerve terminals. Both phasic and tonic terminals innervate the same muscle fibers, which suggests that inherent differences in the neurons, rather than differential retrograde feedback from the muscle, account for the morphological and physiological differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, crayfish, neuromuscular junction, invertebrate, motor neuron, muscle
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Dissecting and Recording from The C. Elegans Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago.
Neurotransmission is the process by which neurons transfer information via chemical signals to their post-synaptic targets, on a rapid time scale. This complex process requires the coordinated activity of many pre- and post-synaptic proteins to ensure appropriate synaptic connectivity, conduction of electrical signals, targeting and priming of secretory vesicles, calcium sensing, vesicle fusion, localization and function of postsynaptic receptors and finally, recycling mechanisms. As neuroscientists it is our goal to elucidate which proteins function in each of these steps and understand their mechanisms of action. Electrophysiological recordings from synapses provide a quantifiable read out of the underlying electrical events that occur during synaptic transmission. By combining this technique with the powerful array of molecular and genetic tools available to manipulate synaptic proteins in C. elegans
, we can analyze the resulting functional changes in synaptic transmission.
The C. elegans
NMJs formed between motor neurons and body wall muscles control locomotion, therefore, mutants with uncoordinated locomotory phenotypes (known as unc
s) often perturb synaptic transmission at these synapses 1
. Since unc
mutants are maintained on a rich supply of a bacterial food source, they remain viable as long as they retain some pharyngeal pumping ability to ingest food. This, together with the fact that C. elegans
exist as hermaphrodites, allows them to pass on mutant progeny without the need for elaborate mating behaviors. These attributes, coupled with our recent ability to record from the worms NMJs 2,3,7
make this an excellent model organism in which to address precisely how unc
mutants impact neurotransmission.
The dissection method involves immobilizing adult worms using a cyanoacrylic glue in order to make an incision in the worm cuticle exposing the NMJs. Since C. elegans
adults are only 1 mm in length the dissection is performed with the use of a dissecting microscope and requires excellent hand-eye coordination. NMJ recordings are made by whole-cell voltage clamping individual body wall muscle cells and neurotransmitter release can be evoked using a variety of stimulation protocols including electrical stimulation, light-activated channel-rhodopsin-mediated depolarization 4
and hyperosmotic saline, all of which will be briefly described.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Caenorhabditis elegans, electrophysiology, neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission