Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA receptors (GABAARs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAARs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAARs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, email@example.com) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: University of Auckland, Stanford University.
Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, hippocampus, paired recording, whole cell recording, organotypic slice, synapse, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Measuring Spinal Presynaptic Inhibition in Mice By Dorsal Root Potential Recording In Vivo
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany, Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany.
Presynaptic inhibition is one of the most powerful inhibitory mechanisms in the spinal cord. The underlying physiological mechanism is a depolarization of primary afferent fibers mediated by GABAergic axo-axonal synapses (primary afferent depolarization). The strength of primary afferent depolarization can be measured by recording of volume-conducted potentials at the dorsal root (dorsal root potentials, DRP). Pathological changes of presynaptic inhibition are crucial in the abnormal central processing of certain pain conditions and in some disorders of motor hyperexcitability. Here, we describe a method of recording DRP in vivo
in mice. The preparation of spinal cord dorsal roots in the anesthetized animal and the recording procedure using suction electrodes are explained. This method allows measuring GABAergic DRP and thereby estimating spinal presynaptic inhibition in the living mouse. In combination with transgenic mouse models, DRP recording may serve as a powerful tool to investigate disease-associated spinal pathophysiology. In vivo
recording has several advantages compared to ex vivo
isolated spinal cord preparations, e.g.
the possibility of simultaneous recording or manipulation of supraspinal networks and induction of DRP by stimulation of peripheral nerves.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Central Nervous System Diseases, Spinal Cord Diseases, Electrophysiology, dorsal root potentials (DRP), spinal cord, GABA, presynaptic inhibition, primary afferent depolarization (PAD), in vivo electrophysiology
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
Two-Photon in vivo Imaging of Dendritic Spines in the Mouse Cortex Using a Thinned-skull Preparation
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the mammalian cortex, neurons form extremely complicated networks and exchange information at synapses. Changes in synaptic strength, as well as addition/removal of synapses, occur in an experience-dependent manner, providing the structural foundation of neuronal plasticity. As postsynaptic components of the most excitatory synapses in the cortex, dendritic spines are considered to be a good proxy of synapses. Taking advantages of mouse genetics and fluorescent labeling techniques, individual neurons and their synaptic structures can be labeled in the intact brain. Here we introduce a transcranial imaging protocol using two-photon laser scanning microscopy to follow fluorescently labeled postsynaptic dendritic spines over time in vivo
. This protocol utilizes a thinned-skull preparation, which keeps the skull intact and avoids inflammatory effects caused by exposure of the meninges and the cortex. Therefore, images can be acquired immediately after surgery is performed. The experimental procedure can be performed repetitively over various time intervals ranging from hours to years. The application of this preparation can also be expanded to investigate different cortical regions and layers, as well as other cell types, under physiological and pathological conditions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, dendritic spine, mouse cortex, in vivo, two-photon microscopy, thinned-skull, imaging
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
Preparation of Synaptic Plasma Membrane and Postsynaptic Density Proteins Using a Discontinuous Sucrose Gradient
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Neuronal subcellular fractionation techniques allow the quantification of proteins that are trafficked to and from the synapse. As originally described in the late 1960’s, proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane can be isolated by ultracentrifugation on a sucrose density gradient. Once synaptic membranes are isolated, the macromolecular complex known as the post-synaptic density can be subsequently isolated due to its detergent insolubility. The techniques used to isolate synaptic plasma membranes and post-synaptic density proteins remain essentially the same after 40 years, and are widely used in current neuroscience research. This article details the fractionation of proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane and post-synaptic density using a discontinuous sucrose gradient. Resulting protein preparations are suitable for western blotting or 2D DIGE analysis.
Neurobiology, Issue 91, brain, synapse, western blot, ultracentrifugation, SPM, PSD
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Using an α-Bungarotoxin Binding Site Tag to Study GABA A Receptor Membrane Localization and Trafficking
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
It is increasingly evident that neurotransmitter receptors, including ionotropic GABA A receptors (GABAAR), exhibit highly dynamic trafficking and cell surface mobility1-7
. To study receptor cell surface localization and endocytosis, the technique described here combines the use of fluorescent α-bungarotoxin with cells expressing constructs containing an α-bungarotoxin (Bgt) binding site (BBS). The BBS (WRYYESSLEPYPD) is based on the α subunit of the muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, which binds Bgt with high affinity8,9
. Incorporation of the BBS site allows surface localization and measurements of receptor insertion or removal with application of exogenous fluorescent Bgt, as previously described in the tracking of GABAA and metabotropic GABAB receptors2,10
. In addition to the BBS site, we inserted a pH-sensitive GFP (pHGFP11
) between amino acids 4 and 5 of the mature GABAAR subunit by standard molecular biology and PCR cloning strategies (see Figure 1
. The BBS is 3' of the pH-sensitive GFP reporter, separated by a 13-amino acid alanine/proline linker. For trafficking studies described in this publication that are based on fixed samples, the pHGFP serves as a reporter of total tagged GABAAR subunit protein levels, allowing normalization of the Bgt labeled receptor population to total receptor population. This minimizes cell to cell Bgt staining signal variability resulting from higher or lower baseline expression of the tagged GABAAR subunits. Furthermore the pHGFP tag enables easy identification of construct expressing cells for live or fixed imaging experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, α-bungarotoxin, binding site, endocytosis, immunostaining, rodent hippocampal neurons, receptor, trafficking, plasma membrane
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
The Analysis of Purkinje Cell Dendritic Morphology in Organotypic Slice Cultures
Institutions: University of Basel.
Purkinje cells are an attractive model system for studying dendritic development, because they have an impressive dendritic tree which is strictly oriented in the sagittal plane and develops mostly in the postnatal period in small rodents 3
. Furthermore, several antibodies are available which selectively and intensively label Purkinje cells including all processes, with anti-Calbindin D28K being the most widely used. For viewing of dendrites in living cells, mice expressing EGFP selectively in Purkinje cells 11
are available through Jackson labs. Organotypic cerebellar slice cultures cells allow easy experimental manipulation of Purkinje cell dendritic development because most of the dendritic expansion of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is actually taking place during the culture period 4
. We present here a short, reliable and easy protocol for viewing and analyzing the dendritic morphology of Purkinje cells grown in organotypic cerebellar slice cultures. For many purposes, a quantitative evaluation of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is desirable. We focus here on two parameters, dendritic tree size and branch point numbers, which can be rapidly and easily determined from anti-calbindin stained cerebellar slice cultures. These two parameters yield a reliable and sensitive measure of changes of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree. Using the example of treatments with the protein kinase C (PKC) activator PMA and the metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 (mGluR1) we demonstrate how differences in the dendritic development are visualized and quantitatively assessed. The combination of the presence of an extensive dendritic tree, selective and intense immunostaining methods, organotypic slice cultures which cover the period of dendritic growth and a mouse model with Purkinje cell specific EGFP expression make Purkinje cells a powerful model system for revealing the mechanisms of dendritic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, dendritic development, dendritic branching, cerebellum, Purkinje cells
Patch-clamp Capacitance Measurements and Ca2+ Imaging at Single Nerve Terminals in Retinal Slices
Institutions: Oregon Health and Science University.
Visual stimuli are detected and conveyed over a wide dynamic range of light intensities and frequency changes by specialized neurons in the vertebrate retina. Two classes of retinal neurons, photoreceptors and bipolar cells, accomplish this by using ribbon-type active zones, which enable sustained and high-throughput neurotransmitter release over long time periods. ON-type mixed bipolar cell (Mb) terminals in the goldfish retina, which depolarize to light stimuli and receive mixed rod and cone photoreceptor input, are suitable for the study of ribbon-type synapses both due to their large size (~10-12 μm diameter) and to their numerous lateral and reciprocal synaptic connections with amacrine cell dendrites. Direct access to Mb bipolar cell terminals in goldfish retinal slices with the patch-clamp technique allows the measurement of presynaptic Ca2+
currents, membrane capacitance changes, and reciprocal synaptic feedback inhibition mediated by GABAA
receptors expressed on the terminals. Presynaptic membrane capacitance measurements of exocytosis allow one to study the short-term plasticity of excitatory neurotransmitter release 14,15
. In addition, short-term and long-term plasticity of inhibitory neurotransmitter release from amacrine cells can also be investigated by recordings of reciprocal feedback inhibition arriving at the Mb terminal 21
. Over short periods of time (e.g. ~10 s), GABAergic reciprocal feedback inhibition from amacrine cells undergoes paired-pulse depression via GABA vesicle pool depletion 11
. The synaptic dynamics of retinal microcircuits in the inner plexiform layer of the retina can thus be directly studied.
The brain-slice technique was introduced more than 40 years ago but is still very useful for the investigation of the electrical properties of neurons, both at the single cell soma, single dendrite or axon, and microcircuit synaptic level 19
. Tissues that are too small to be glued directly onto the slicing chamber are often first embedded in agar (or placed onto a filter paper) and then sliced 20, 23, 18, 9
. In this video, we employ the pre-embedding agar technique using goldfish retina. Some of the giant bipolar cell terminals in our slices of goldfish retina are axotomized (axon-cut) during the slicing procedure. This allows us to isolate single presynaptic nerve terminal inputs, because recording from axotomized terminals excludes the signals from the soma-dendritic compartment. Alternatively, one can also record from intact Mb bipolar cells, by recording from terminals attached to axons that have not been cut during the slicing procedure. Overall, use of this experimental protocol will aid in studies of retinal synaptic physiology, microcircuit functional analysis, and synaptic transmission at ribbon synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 59, synaptic physiology, axon terminal, synaptic ribbon, retina microcircuits, goldfish, zebrafish, brain slices, patch-clamp, membrane capacitance measurements, calcium-imaging, exocytosis, transmitter release
Mosaic Analysis of Gene Function in Postnatal Mouse Brain Development by Using Virus-based Cre Recombination
Institutions: Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.
Normal brain function relies not only on embryonic development when major neuronal pathways are established, but also on postnatal
development when neural circuits are matured and refined. Misregulation at this stage may lead to neurological and psychiatric disorders such as autism
. Many genes have been studied in the prenatal brain and found crucial to many developmental processes3-5
. However, their
function in the postnatal brain is largely unknown, partly because their deletion in mice often leads to lethality during neonatal development, and partly because their requirement in early development hampers the postnatal analysis. To overcome these obstacles, floxed alleles of these genes are currently being generated in mice 6
. When combined with transgenic alleles that express Cre recombinase in specific cell types, conditional deletion can be achieved to study gene function in the postnatal brain. However, this method requires additional alleles and extra time (3-6 months) to generate the mice with appropriate genotypes, thereby limiting the expansion of the genetic analysis to a large scale in the mouse brain.
Here we demonstrate a complementary approach that uses virally-expressed Cre to study these floxed alleles rapidly and
systematically in postnatal brain development. By injecting recombinant adeno-associated viruses (rAAVs)7,8
encoding Cre into the neonatal brain,
we are able to delete the gene of interest in different regions of the brain. By controlling the viral titer and coexpressing a fluorescent
protein marker, we can simultaneously achieve mosaic gene inactivation and sparse neuronal labeling. This method bypasses the requirement of
many genes in early development, and allows us to study their cell autonomous function in many critical processes in postnatal brain development,
including axonal and dendritic growth, branching, and tiling, as well as synapse formation and refinement. This method has been used successfully
in our own lab (unpublished results) and others8,9
, and can be extended to other viruses, such as lentivirus 9
, as well as to the expression of
shRNA or dominant active proteins 10
. Furthermore, by combining this technique with electrophysiology as well as recently-developed optical
imaging tools 11
, this method provides a new strategy to study how genetic pathways influence neural circuit development and function in mice
Neuroscience, Issue 54, Adeno-associated virus, Cre, mosaic analysis, sparse labeling, mouse, postnatal, brain development
Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
Osmotic Avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: Synaptic Function of Two Genes, Orthologues of Human NRXN1 and NLGN1, as Candidates for Autism
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
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
genes are orthologous to human NRXN1
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
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
Automated Quantification of Synaptic Fluorescence in C. elegans
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