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Computer assisted assembly of connectomes from electron micrographs: application to Caenorhabditis elegans.
PUBLISHED: 01-16-2013
A rate-limiting step in determining a connectome, the set of all synaptic connections in a nervous system, is extraction of the relevant information from serial electron micrographs. Here we introduce a software application, Elegance, that speeds acquisition of the minimal dataset necessary, allowing the discovery of new connectomes. We have used Elegance to obtain new connectivity data in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. We analyze the accuracy that can be obtained, which is limited by unresolvable ambiguities at some locations in electron microscopic images. Elegance is useful for reconstructing connectivity in any region of neuropil of sufficiently small size.
Authors: Cody Locke, Kalen Berry, Bwarenaba Kautu, Kyle Lee, Kim Caldwell, Guy Caldwell.
Published: 08-18-2008
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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Authors: Kathryn N. Maher, Mary Catanese, Daniel L. Chase.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans lab.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
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Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Authors: Ido Karady, Anna Frumkin, Shiran Dror, Netta Shemesh, Nadav Shai, Anat Ben-Zvi.
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
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Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Authors: Denise Wernike, Chloe van Oostende, Alisa Piekny.
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
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Measuring the Effects of Bacteria on C. Elegans Behavior Using an Egg Retention Assay
Authors: Mona Gardner, Mary Rosell, Edith M. Myers.
Institutions: Fairleigh Dickinson University.
C. elegans egg-laying behavior is affected by environmental cues such as osmolarity1 and vibration2. In the total absence of food C. elegans also cease egg-laying and retain fertilized eggs in their uterus3. However, the effect of different sources of food, especially pathogenic bacteria and particularly Enterococcus faecalis, on egg-laying behavior is not well characterized. The egg-in-worm (EIW) assay is a useful tool to quantify the effects of different types of bacteria, in this case E. faecalis, on egg- laying behavior. EIW assays involve counting the number of eggs retained in the uterus of C. elegans4. The EIW assay involves bleaching staged, gravid adult C. elegans to remove the cuticle and separate the retained eggs from the animal. Prior to bleaching, worms are exposed to bacteria (or any type of environmental cue) for a fixed period of time. After bleaching, one is very easily able to count the number of eggs retained inside the uterus of the worms. In this assay, a quantifiable increase in egg retention after E. faecalis exposure can be easily measured. The EIW assay is a behavioral assay that may be used to screen for potentially pathogenic bacteria or the presence of environmental toxins. In addition, the EIW assay may be a tool to screen for drugs that affect neurotransmitter signaling since egg-laying behavior is modulated by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and acetylcholine5-9.
Developmental Biology, Issue 80, Microbiology, C. elegans, Behavior, Animal, Microbiology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Enterococcus faecalis, egg-laying behavior, animal model
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Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging of Caenorhabditis elegans Locomotion Including Force Estimates
Authors: Alicia Jago, Tewa Kpulun, Kathleen M. Raley-Susman, Jenny Magnes.
Institutions: Vassar College, Vassar College.
This study demonstrates an inexpensive and straightforward technique that allows the measurement of physical properties such as position, velocity, acceleration and forces involved in the locomotory behavior of nematodes suspended in a column of water in response to single wavelengths of light. We demonstrate how to evaluate the locomotion of a microscopic organism using Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging (SWSI) using two different examples. The first example is a systematic and statistically viable study of the average descent of C. elegans in a column of water. For this study, we used living and dead wildtype C. elegans. When we compared the velocity and direction of nematode active movement with the passive descent of dead worms within the gravitational field, this study showed no difference in descent-times. The average descent was 1.5 mm/sec ± 0.1 mm/sec for both the live and dead worms using 633 nm coherent light. The second example is a case study of select individual C. elegans changing direction during the descent in a vertical water column. Acceleration and force are analyzed in this example. This case study demonstrates the scope of other physical properties that can be evaluated using SWSI while evaluating the behavior using single wavelengths in an environment that is not accessible with traditional microscopes. Using this analysis we estimated an individual nematode is capable of thrusting with a force in excess of 28 nN. Our findings indicate that living nematodes exert 28 nN when turning, or moving against the gravitational field. The findings further suggest that nematodes passively descend in a column of water, but can actively resist the force of gravity primarily by turning direction.
Physics, Issue 86, C. elegans, nematode, shadow imaging, locomotion, video analysis, swimming behavior, force
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Authors: Tamika K. Samuel, Jason W. Sinclair, Katherine L. Pinter, Iqbal Hamza.
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
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In Vivo Imaging of Dauer-specific Neuronal Remodeling in C. elegans
Authors: Nathan E. Schroeder, Kristen M. Flatt.
Institutions: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The mechanisms controlling stress-induced phenotypic plasticity in animals are frequently complex and difficult to study in vivo. A classic example of stress-induced plasticity is the dauer stage of C. elegans. Dauers are an alternative developmental larval stage formed under conditions of low concentrations of bacterial food and high concentrations of a dauer pheromone. Dauers display extensive developmental and behavioral plasticity. For example, a set of four inner-labial quadrant (IL2Q) neurons undergo extensive reversible remodeling during dauer formation. Utilizing the well-known environmental pathways regulating dauer entry, a previously established method for the production of crude dauer pheromone from large-scale liquid nematode cultures is demonstrated. With this method, a concentration of 50,000 - 75,000 nematodes/ml of liquid culture is sufficient to produce a highly potent crude dauer pheromone. The crude pheromone potency is determined by a dose-response bioassay. Finally, the methods used for in vivo time-lapse imaging of the IL2Qs during dauer formation are described.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, C. elegans, dauer, dendrite, arborization, phenotypic plasticity, stress, imaging, pheromone
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A Method for Culturing Embryonic C. elegans Cells
Authors: Rachele Sangaletti, Laura Bianchi.
Institutions: University of Miami .
C. elegans 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
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Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Hans-Peter Müller, Jan Kassubek.
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
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Microfluidic-based Electrotaxis for On-demand Quantitative Analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans' Locomotion
Authors: Justin Tong, Pouya Rezai, Sangeena Salam, P. Ravi Selvaganapathy, Bhagwati P. Gupta.
Institutions: McMaster University , McMaster University .
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a versatile model organism for biomedical research because of its conservation of disease-related genes and pathways as well as its ease of cultivation. Several C. elegans disease models have been reported, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease (PD), which involves the degeneration of dopaminergic (DA) neurons 1. Both transgenes and neurotoxic chemicals have been used to induce DA neurodegeneration and consequent movement defects in worms, allowing for investigations into the basis of neurodegeneration and screens for neuroprotective genes and compounds 2,3. Screens in lower eukaryotes like C. elegans provide an efficient and economical means to identify compounds and genes affecting neuronal signaling. Conventional screens are typically performed manually and scored by visual inspection; consequently, they are time-consuming and prone to human errors. Additionally, most focus on cellular level analysis while ignoring locomotion, which is an especially important parameter for movement disorders. We have developed a novel microfluidic screening system (Figure 1) that controls and quantifies C. elegans' locomotion using electric field stimuli inside microchannels. We have shown that a Direct Current (DC) field can robustly induce on-demand locomotion towards the cathode ("electrotaxis") 4. Reversing the field's polarity causes the worm to quickly reverse its direction as well. We have also shown that defects in dopaminergic and other sensory neurons alter the swimming response 5. Therefore, abnormalities in neuronal signaling can be determined using locomotion as a read-out. The movement response can be accurately quantified using a range of parameters such as swimming speed, body bending frequency and reversal time. Our work has revealed that the electrotactic response varies with age. Specifically, young adults respond to a lower range of electric fields and move faster compared to larvae 4. These findings led us to design a new microfluidic device to passively sort worms by age and phenotype 6. We have also tested the response of worms to pulsed DC and Alternating Current (AC) electric fields. Pulsed DC fields of various duty cycles effectively generated electrotaxis in both C. elegans and its cousin C. briggsae 7. In another experiment, symmetrical AC fields with frequencies ranging from 1 Hz to 3 KHz immobilized worms inside the channel 8. Implementation of the electric field in a microfluidic environment enables rapid and automated execution of the electrotaxis assay. This approach promises to facilitate high-throughput genetic and chemical screens for factors affecting neuronal function and viability.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Behavior, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Mechanical Engineering, Microfluidics, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, Neurotoxicity Syndromes, Drug Toxicity, Neurotoxicity Syndromes, Biological Agents, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Toxicity Tests, Locomotion, Nervous System Diseases, electrotaxis, locomotion, swimming, movement, neurodegeneration, neuronal signaling, dopamine, neurons, animal model
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Osmotic Avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: Synaptic Function of Two Genes, Orthologues of Human NRXN1 and NLGN1, as Candidates for Autism
Authors: Fernando Calahorro, Encarna Alejandre, Manuel Ruiz-Rubio.
Institutions: Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Córdoba, Instituto Maimónides de Investigación Biomédica de Córdoba (IMIBIC).
Neurexins and neuroligins are cell adhesion molecules present in excitatory and inhibitory synapses, and they are required for correct neuron network function1. These proteins are found at the presynaptic and postsynaptic membranes 2. Studies in mice indicate that neurexins and neurologins have an essential role in synaptic transmission 1. Recent reports have shown that altered neuronal connections during the development of the human nervous system could constitute the basis of the etiology of numerous cases of autism spectrum disorders 3. Caenorhabditis elegans could be used as an experimental tool to facilitate the study of the functioning of synaptic components, because of its simplicity for laboratory experimentation, and given that its nervous system and synaptic wiring has been fully characterized. In C. elegans nrx-1 and nlg-1 genes are orthologous to human NRXN1 and NLGN1 genes which encode alpha-neurexin-1 and neuroligin-1 proteins, respectively. In humans and nematodes, the organization of neurexins and neuroligins is similar in respect to functional domains. The head of the nematode contains the amphid, a sensory organ of the nematode, which mediates responses to different stimuli, including osmotic strength. The amphid is made of 12 sensory bipolar neurons with ciliated dendrites and one presynaptic terminal axon 4. Two of these neurons, named ASHR and ASHL are particularly important in osmotic sensory function, detecting water-soluble repellents with high osmotic strength 5. The dendrites of these two neurons lengthen to the tip of the mouth and the axons extend to the nerve ring, where they make synaptic connections with other neurons determining the behavioral response 6. To evaluate the implications of neurexin and neuroligin in high osmotic strength avoidance, we show the different response of C. elegans mutants defective in nrx-1 and nlg-1 genes, using a method based on a 4M fructose ring 7. The behavioral phenotypes were confirmed using specific RNAi clones 8. In C. elegans, the dsRNA required to trigger RNAi can be administered by feeding 9. The delivery of dsRNA through food induces the RNAi interference of the gene of interest thus allowing the identification of genetic components and network pathways.
Neuroscience, Microbiology, Issue 34, synapse, osmotic sensitivity, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurexin, neuroligin, autism, neuroscience
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Assaying β-amyloid Toxicity using a Transgenic C. elegans Model
Authors: Vishantie Dostal, Christopher D. Link.
Institutions: University of Colorado, University of Colorado.
Accumulation of the β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) is generally believed to be central to the induction of Alzheimer's disease, but the relevant mechanism(s) of toxicity are still unclear. Aβ is also deposited intramuscularly in Inclusion Body Myositis, a severe human myopathy. The intensely studied nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans can be transgenically engineered to express human Aβ. Depending on the tissue or timing of Aβ expression, transgenic worms can have readily measurable phenotypes that serve as a read-out of Aβ toxicity. For example, transgenic worms with pan-neuronal Aβ expression have defects is associative learning (Dosanjh et al. 2009), while transgenic worms with constitutive muscle-specific expression show a progressive, age-dependent paralysis phenotype (Link, 1995; Cohen et al. 2006). One particularly useful C. elegans model employs a temperature-sensitive mutation in the mRNA surveillance system to engineer temperature-inducible muscle expression of an Aβ transgene, resulting in a reproducible paralysis phenotype upon temperature upshift (Link et al. 2003). Treatments that counter Aβ toxicity in this model [e.g., expression of a protective transgene (Hassan et al. 2009) or exposure to Ginkgo biloba extracts (Wu et al. 2006)] reproducibly alter the rate of paralysis induced by temperature upshift of these transgenic worms. Here we describe our protocol for measuring the rate of paralysis in this transgenic C. elegans model, with particular attention to experimental variables that can influence this measurement.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Alzheimer's disease, paralysis, compound screening, Inclusion Body Myositis, invertebrate model
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Isolation and In vitro Activation of Caenorhabditis elegans Sperm
Authors: Gunasekaran Singaravelu, Indrani Chatterjee, Matthew R. Marcello, Andrew Singson.
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Males and hermaphrodites are the two naturally found sexual forms in the nematode C. elegans. The amoeboid sperm are produced by both males and hermaphrodites. In the earlier phase of gametogenesis, the germ cells of hermaphrodites differentiate into limited number of sperm - around 300 - and are stored in a small 'bag' called the spermatheca. Later on, hermaphrodites continually produce oocytes1. In contrast, males produce exclusively sperm throughout their adulthood. The males produce so much sperm that it accounts for >50% of the total cells in a typical adult worm2. Therefore, isolating sperm from males is easier than from that of hermaphrodites. Only a small proportion of males are naturally generated due to spontaneous non-disjunction of X chromosome3. Crossing hermaphrodites with males or more conveniently, the introduction of mutations to give rise to Him (High Incidence of Males) phenotype are some of strategies through which one can enrich the male population3. Males can be easily distinguished from hermaphrodites by observing the tail morphology4. Hermaphrodite's tail is pointed, whereas male tail is rounded with mating structures. Cutting the tail releases vast number of spermatids stored inside the male reproductive tract. Dissection is performed under a stereo microscope using 27 gauge needles. Since spermatids are not physically connected with any other cells, hydraulic pressure expels internal contents of male body, including spermatids2. Males are directly dissected on a small drop of 'Sperm Medium'. Spermatids are sensitive to alteration in the pH. Hence, HEPES, a compound with good buffering capacity is used in sperm media. Glucose and other salts present in sperm media help maintain osmotic pressure to maintain the integrity of sperm. Post-meiotic differentiation of spermatids into spermatozoa is termed spermiogenesis or sperm activation. Shakes5, and Nelson6 previously showed that round spermatids can be induced to differentiate into spermatozoa by adding various activating compounds including Pronase E. Here we demonstrate in vitro spermiogenesis of C. elegans spermatids using Pronase E. Successful spermiogenesis is pre-requisite for fertility and hence the mutants defective in spermiogenesis are sterile. Hitherto several mutants have been shown to be defective specifically in spermiogenesis process7. Abnormality found during in vitro activation of novel Spe (Spermatogenesis defective) mutants would help us discover additional players participating in this event.
Developmental Biology, Issue 47, spermatid, spermatozoa, spermiogenesis, protease, pseudopod, nematode
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Nano-fEM: Protein Localization Using Photo-activated Localization Microscopy and Electron Microscopy
Authors: Shigeki Watanabe, Jackson Richards, Gunther Hollopeter, Robert J. Hobson, Wayne M. Davis, Erik M. Jorgensen.
Institutions: University of Utah .
Mapping the distribution of proteins is essential for understanding the function of proteins in a cell. Fluorescence microscopy is extensively used for protein localization, but subcellular context is often absent in fluorescence images. Immuno-electron microscopy, on the other hand, can localize proteins, but the technique is limited by a lack of compatible antibodies, poor preservation of morphology and because most antigens are not exposed to the specimen surface. Correlative approaches can acquire the fluorescence image from a whole cell first, either from immuno-fluorescence or genetically tagged proteins. The sample is then fixed and embedded for electron microscopy, and the images are correlated 1-3. However, the low-resolution fluorescence image and the lack of fiducial markers preclude the precise localization of proteins. Alternatively, fluorescence imaging can be done after preserving the specimen in plastic. In this approach, the block is sectioned, and fluorescence images and electron micrographs of the same section are correlated 4-7. However, the diffraction limit of light in the correlated image obscures the locations of individual molecules, and the fluorescence often extends beyond the boundary of the cell. Nano-resolution fluorescence electron microscopy (nano-fEM) is designed to localize proteins at nano-scale by imaging the same sections using photo-activated localization microscopy (PALM) and electron microscopy. PALM overcomes the diffraction limit by imaging individual fluorescent proteins and subsequently mapping the centroid of each fluorescent spot 8-10. We outline the nano-fEM technique in five steps. First, the sample is fixed and embedded using conditions that preserve the fluorescence of tagged proteins. Second, the resin blocks are sectioned into ultrathin segments (70-80 nm) that are mounted on a cover glass. Third, fluorescence is imaged in these sections using the Zeiss PALM microscope. Fourth, electron dense structures are imaged in these same sections using a scanning electron microscope. Fifth, the fluorescence and electron micrographs are aligned using gold particles as fiducial markers. In summary, the subcellular localization of fluorescently tagged proteins can be determined at nanometer resolution in approximately one week.
Molecular Biology, Issue 70, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Proteomics, Proteins, Protein localization, super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, fluorescence, electron microscopy, nano-fEM, EM, SEM, electron micrograph, imaging
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Automated Quantification of Synaptic Fluorescence in C. elegans
Authors: Brianne L. Sturt, Bruce A. Bamber.
Institutions: University of Toledo .
Synapse strength refers to the amplitude of postsynaptic responses to presynaptic neurotransmitter release events, and has a major impact on overall neural circuit function. Synapse strength critically depends on the abundance of neurotransmitter receptors clustered at synaptic sites on the postsynaptic membrane. Receptor levels are established developmentally, and can be altered by receptor trafficking between surface-localized, subsynaptic, and intracellular pools, representing important mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation. Rigorous methods to quantify synaptically-localized neurotransmitter receptor abundance are essential to study synaptic development and plasticity. Fluorescence microscopy is an optimal approach because it preserves spatial information, distinguishing synaptic from non-synaptic pools, and discriminating among receptor populations localized to different types of synapses. The genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans is particularly well suited for these studies due to the small size and relative simplicity of its nervous system, its transparency, and the availability of powerful genetic techniques, allowing examination of native synapses in intact animals. Here we present a method for quantifying fluorescently-labeled synaptic neurotransmitter receptors in C. elegans. Its key feature is the automated identification and analysis of individual synapses in three dimensions in multi-plane confocal microscope output files, tabulating position, volume, fluorescence intensity, and total fluorescence for each synapse. This approach has two principal advantages over manual analysis of z-plane projections of confocal data. First, because every plane of the confocal data set is included, no data are lost through z-plane projection, typically based on pixel intensity averages or maxima. Second, identification of synapses is automated, but can be inspected by the experimenter as the data analysis proceeds, allowing fast and accurate extraction of data from large numbers of synapses. Hundreds to thousands of synapses per sample can easily be obtained, producing large data sets to maximize statistical power. Considerations for preparing C. elegans for analysis, and performing confocal imaging to minimize variability between animals within treatment groups are also discussed. Although developed to analyze C. elegans postsynaptic receptors, this method is generally useful for any type of synaptically-localized protein, or indeed, any fluorescence signal that is localized to discrete clusters, puncta, or organelles. The procedure is performed in three steps: 1) preparation of samples, 2) confocal imaging, and 3) image analysis. Steps 1 and 2 are specific to C. elegans, while step 3 is generally applicable to any punctate fluorescence signal in confocal micrographs.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Developmental Biology, Neurotransmitter receptors, quantification, confocal microscopy, immunostaining, fluorescence, Volocity, UNC-49 GABA receptors, C. elegans
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C. elegans Tracking and Behavioral Measurement
Authors: Jirapat Likitlersuang, Greg Stephens, Konstantine Palanski, William S. Ryu.
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, locomotion4, 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
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Quantitative Locomotion Study of Freely Swimming Micro-organisms Using Laser Diffraction
Authors: Jenny Magnes, Kathleen Susman, Rebecca Eells.
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 C. elegans 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
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Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Authors: Elizabeth C. Pino, Christopher M. Webster, Christopher E. Carr, Alexander A. Soukas.
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 metabolic research.
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
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Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Authors: Christopher J. Gaffney, Joseph J. Bass, Thomas F. Barratt, Nathaniel J. Szewczyk.
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
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Dissecting and Recording from The C. Elegans Neuromuscular Junction
Authors: Janet Richmond.
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
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