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, firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
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
Rs) 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 GABAA
Rs 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 GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R 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 GABAA
Rs 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.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans
-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans
-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
Identification of Post-translational Modifications of Plant Protein Complexes
Institutions: University of Warwick, Norwich Research Park, The Australian National University.
Plants adapt quickly to changing environments due to elaborate perception and signaling systems. During pathogen attack, plants rapidly respond to infection via
the recruitment and activation of immune complexes. Activation of immune complexes is associated with post-translational modifications (PTMs) of proteins, such as phosphorylation, glycosylation, or ubiquitination. Understanding how these PTMs are choreographed will lead to a better understanding of how resistance is achieved.
Here we describe a protein purification method for nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-interacting proteins and the subsequent identification of their post-translational modifications (PTMs). With small modifications, the protocol can be applied for the purification of other plant protein complexes. The method is based on the expression of an epitope-tagged version of the protein of interest, which is subsequently partially purified by immunoprecipitation and subjected to mass spectrometry for identification of interacting proteins and PTMs.
This protocol demonstrates that: i). Dynamic changes in PTMs such as phosphorylation can be detected by mass spectrometry; ii). It is important to have sufficient quantities of the protein of interest, and this can compensate for the lack of purity of the immunoprecipitate; iii). In order to detect PTMs of a protein of interest, this protein has to be immunoprecipitated to get a sufficient quantity of protein.
Plant Biology, Issue 84, plant-microbe interactions, protein complex purification, mass spectrometry, protein phosphorylation, Prf, Pto, AvrPto, AvrPtoB
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
Metabolic Labeling of Leucine Rich Repeat Kinases 1 and 2 with Radioactive Phosphate
Institutions: KU Leuven and Leuven Institute for Neuroscience and Disease (LIND).
Leucine rich repeat kinases 1 and 2 (LRRK1 and LRRK2) are paralogs which share a similar domain organization, including a serine-threonine kinase domain, a Ras of complex proteins domain (ROC), a C-terminal of ROC domain (COR), and leucine-rich and ankyrin-like repeats at the N-terminus. The precise cellular roles of LRRK1 and LRRK2 have yet to be elucidated, however LRRK1 has been implicated in tyrosine kinase receptor signaling1,2
, while LRRK2 is implicated in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease3,4
. In this report, we present a protocol to label the LRRK1 and LRRK2 proteins in cells with 32
P orthophosphate, thereby providing a means to measure the overall phosphorylation levels of these 2 proteins in cells. In brief, affinity tagged LRRK proteins are expressed in HEK293T cells which are exposed to medium containing 32
P-orthophosphate. The 32
P-orthophosphate is assimilated by the cells after only a few hours of incubation and all molecules in the cell containing phosphates are thereby radioactively labeled. Via the affinity tag (3xflag) the LRRK proteins are isolated from other cellular components by immunoprecipitation. Immunoprecipitates are then separated via SDS-PAGE, blotted to PVDF membranes and analysis of the incorporated phosphates is performed by autoradiography (32
P signal) and western detection (protein signal) of the proteins on the blots. The protocol can readily be adapted to monitor phosphorylation of any other protein that can be expressed in cells and isolated by immunoprecipitation.
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, biology (general), biochemistry, bioengineering (general), LRRK1, LRRK2, metabolic labeling, 32P orthophosphate, immunoprecipitation, autoradiography
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Comprehensive Profiling of Dopamine Regulation in Substantia Nigra and Ventral Tegmental Area
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
Dopamine is a vigorously studied neurotransmitter in the CNS. Indeed, its involvement in locomotor activity and reward-related behaviour has fostered five decades of inquiry into the molecular deficiencies associated with dopamine regulation. The majority of these inquiries of dopamine regulation in the brain focus upon the molecular basis for its regulation in the terminal field regions of the nigrostriatal and mesoaccumbens pathways; striatum and nucleus accumbens. Furthermore, such studies have concentrated on analysis of dopamine tissue content with normalization to only wet tissue weight. Investigation of the proteins that regulate dopamine, such as tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) protein, TH phosphorylation, dopamine transporter (DAT), and vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) protein often do not include analysis of dopamine tissue content in the same sample. The ability to analyze both dopamine tissue content and its regulating proteins (including post-translational modifications) not only gives inherent power to interpreting the relationship of dopamine with the protein level and function of TH, DAT, or VMAT2, but also extends sample economy. This translates into less cost, and yet produces insights into the molecular regulation of dopamine in virtually any paradigm of the investigators' choice.
We focus the analyses in the midbrain. Although the SN and VTA are typically neglected in most studies of dopamine regulation, these nuclei are easily dissected with practice. A comprehensive readout of dopamine tissue content and TH, DAT, or VMAT2 can be conducted. There is burgeoning literature on the impact of dopamine function in the SN and VTA on behavior, and the impingements of exogenous substances or disease processes therein 1-5
. Furthermore, compounds such as growth factors have a profound effect on dopamine and dopamine-regulating proteins, to a comparatively greater extent in the SN or VTA 6-8
. Therefore, this methodology is presented for reference to laboratories that want to extend their inquiries on how specific treatments modulate behaviour and dopamine regulation. Here, a multi-step method is presented for the analyses of dopamine tissue content, the protein levels of TH, DAT, or VMAT2, and TH phosphorylation from the substantia nigra and VTA from rodent midbrain. The analysis of TH phosphorylation can yield significant insights into not only how TH activity is regulated, but also the signaling cascades affected in the somatodendritic nuclei in a given paradigm.
We will illustrate the dissection technique to segregate these two nuclei and the sample processing of dissected tissue that produces a profile revealing molecular mechanisms of dopamine regulation in vivo,
specific for each nuclei (Figure 1)
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Medicine, Physiology, midbrain, substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, tyrosine hydroxylase, phosphorylation, nigrostriatal, mesoaccumbens, dopamine transporter
Chromatin Interaction Analysis with Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) for Mapping Chromatin Interactions and Understanding Transcription Regulation
Institutions: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore, A*STAR-Duke-NUS Neuroscience Research Partnership, Singapore, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Genomes are organized into three-dimensional structures, adopting higher-order conformations inside the micron-sized nuclear spaces 7, 2, 12
. Such architectures are not random and involve interactions between gene promoters and regulatory elements 13
. The binding of transcription factors to specific regulatory sequences brings about a network of transcription regulation and coordination 1, 14
Chromatin Interaction Analysis by Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) was developed to identify these higher-order chromatin structures 5,6
. Cells are fixed and interacting loci are captured by covalent DNA-protein cross-links. To minimize non-specific noise and reduce complexity, as well as to increase the specificity of the chromatin interaction analysis, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is used against specific protein factors to enrich chromatin fragments of interest before proximity ligation. Ligation involving half-linkers subsequently forms covalent links between pairs of DNA fragments tethered together within individual chromatin complexes. The flanking MmeI restriction enzyme sites in the half-linkers allow extraction of paired end tag-linker-tag constructs (PETs) upon MmeI digestion. As the half-linkers are biotinylated, these PET constructs are purified using streptavidin-magnetic beads. The purified PETs are ligated with next-generation sequencing adaptors and a catalog of interacting fragments is generated via next-generation sequencers such as the Illumina Genome Analyzer. Mapping and bioinformatics analysis is then performed to identify ChIP-enriched binding sites and ChIP-enriched chromatin interactions 8
We have produced a video to demonstrate critical aspects of the ChIA-PET protocol, especially the preparation of ChIP as the quality of ChIP plays a major role in the outcome of a ChIA-PET library. As the protocols are very long, only the critical steps are shown in the video.
Genetics, Issue 62, ChIP, ChIA-PET, Chromatin Interactions, Genomics, Next-Generation Sequencing
Pull-down of Calmodulin-binding Proteins
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin .
) is an ion vital in regulating cellular function through a variety of mechanisms. Much of Ca2+
signaling is mediated through the calcium-binding protein known as calmodulin (CaM)1,2
. CaM is involved at multiple levels in almost all cellular processes, including apoptosis, metabolism, smooth muscle contraction, synaptic plasticity, nerve growth, inflammation and the immune response. A number of proteins help regulate these pathways through their interaction with CaM. Many of these interactions depend on the conformation of CaM, which is distinctly different when bound to Ca2+
-CaM) as opposed to its Ca2+
-free state (ApoCaM)3
While most target proteins bind Ca2+
-CaM, certain proteins only bind to ApoCaM. Some bind CaM through their IQ-domain, including neuromodulin4
, neurogranin (Ng)5
, and certain myosins6
. These proteins have been shown to play important roles in presynaptic function7
, postsynaptic function8
, and muscle contraction9
, respectively. Their ability to bind and release CaM in the absence or presence of Ca2+
is pivotal in their function. In contrast, many proteins only bind Ca2+
-CaM and require this binding for their activation. Examples include myosin light chain kinase10
/CaM-dependent kinases (CaMKs)11
and phosphatases (e.g. calcineurin)12
, and spectrin kinase13
, which have a variety of direct and downstream effects14
The effects of these proteins on cellular function are often dependent on their ability to bind to CaM in a Ca2+
-dependent manner. For example, we tested the relevance of Ng-CaM binding in synaptic function and how different mutations affect this binding. We generated a GFP-tagged Ng construct with specific mutations in the IQ-domain that would change the ability of Ng to bind CaM in a Ca2+
-dependent manner. The study of these different mutations gave us great insight into important processes involved in synaptic function8,15
. However, in such studies, it is essential to demonstrate that the mutated proteins have the expected altered binding to CaM.
Here, we present a method for testing the ability of proteins to bind to CaM in the presence or absence of Ca2+
, using CaMKII and Ng as examples. This method is a form of affinity chromatography referred to as a CaM pull-down assay. It uses CaM-Sepharose beads to test proteins that bind to CaM and the influence of Ca2+
on this binding. It is considerably more time efficient and requires less protein relative to column chromatography and other assays. Altogether, this provides a valuable tool to explore Ca2+
/CaM signaling and proteins that interact with CaM.
Molecular BIology, Issue 59, Calmodulin, calcium, IQ-motif, affinity chromatography, pull-down, Ca2+/Calmodulin-dependent Kinase II, neurogranin
Vibrodissociation of Neurons from Rodent Brain Slices to Study Synaptic Transmission and Image Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ewha Womans University, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mechanical dissociation of neurons from the central nervous system has the advantage that presynaptic boutons remain attached to the isolated neuron of interest. This allows for examination of synaptic transmission under conditions where the extracellular and postsynaptic intracellular environments can be well controlled. A vibration-based technique without the use of proteases, known as vibrodissociation, is the most popular technique for mechanical isolation. A micropipette, with the tip fire-polished to the shape of a small ball, is placed into a brain slice made from a P1-P21 rodent. The micropipette is vibrated parallel to the slice surface and lowered through the slice thickness resulting in the liberation of isolated neurons. The isolated neurons are ready for study within a few minutes of vibrodissociation. This technique has advantages over the use of primary neuronal cultures, brain slices and enzymatically isolated neurons including: rapid production of viable, relatively mature neurons suitable for electrophysiological and imaging studies; superior control of the extracellular environment free from the influence of neighboring cells; suitability for well-controlled pharmacological experiments using rapid drug application and total cell superfusion; and improved space-clamp in whole-cell recordings relative to neurons in slice or cell culture preparations. This preparation can be used to examine synaptic physiology, pharmacology, modulation and plasticity. Real-time imaging of both pre- and postsynaptic elements in the living cells and boutons is also possible using vibrodissociated neurons. Characterization of the molecular constituents of pre- and postsynaptic elements can also be achieved with immunological and imaging-based approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, neuronal dissociation, synaptic transmission, GABA, calcium imaging, electrophysiology, hippocampus, striatum
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
Profiling of Methyltransferases and Other S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine-binding Proteins by Capture Compound Mass Spectrometry (CCMS)
Institutions: caprotec bioanalytics GmbH, RWTH Aachen University.
There is a variety of approaches to reduce the complexity of the proteome on the basis of functional small molecule-protein interactions such as affinity chromatography 1
or Activity Based Protein Profiling 2
. Trifunctional Capture Compounds (CCs, Figure 1A) 3
are the basis for a generic approach, in which the initial equilibrium-driven interaction between a small molecule probe (the selectivity function, here S
-homocysteine, SAH, Figure 1A) and target proteins is irreversibly fixed upon photo-crosslinking between an independent photo-activable reactivity function (here a phenylazide) of the CC and the surface of the target proteins. The sorting function (here biotin) serves to isolate the CC - protein conjugates from complex biological mixtures with the help of a solid phase (here streptavidin magnetic beads). Two configurations of the experiments are possible: "off-bead" 4
or the presently described "on-bead" configuration (Figure 1B). The selectivity function may be virtually any small molecule of interest (substrates, inhibitors, drug molecules).
-methionine (SAM, Figure 1A) is probably, second to ATP, the most widely used cofactor in nature 5, 6
. It is used as the major methyl group donor in all living organisms with the chemical reaction being catalyzed by SAM-dependent methyltransferases (MTases), which methylate DNA 7
, RNA 8
, proteins 9
, or small molecules 10
. Given the crucial role of methylation reactions in diverse physiological scenarios (gene regulation, epigenetics, metabolism), the profiling of MTases can be expected to become of similar importance in functional proteomics as the profiling of kinases. Analytical tools for their profiling, however, have not been available. We recently introduced a CC with SAH as selectivity group to fill this technological gap (Figure 1A).
SAH, the product of SAM after methyl transfer, is a known general MTase product inhibitor 11
. For this reason and because the natural cofactor SAM is used by further enzymes transferring other parts of the cofactor or initiating radical reactions as well as because of its chemical instability 12
, SAH is an ideal selectivity function for a CC to target MTases. Here, we report the utility of the SAH-CC and CCMS by profiling MTases and other SAH-binding proteins from the strain DH5α of Escherichia coli
), one of the best-characterized prokaryotes, which has served as the preferred model organism in countless biochemical, biological, and biotechnological studies. Photo-activated crosslinking enhances yield and sensitivity of the experiment, and the specificity can be readily tested for in competition experiments using an excess of free SAH.
Biochemistry, Issue 46, Capture Compound, photo-crosslink, small molecule-protein interaction, methyltransferase, S-adenosyl-l-homocysteine, SAH, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, SAM, functional proteomics, LC-MS/MS
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
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
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
Simultaneous Pre- and Post-synaptic Electrophysiological Recording from Xenopus Nerve-muscle Co-cultures
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Pepperdine University.
Much information about the coupling of presynaptic ionic currents with the release of neurotransmitter has been obtained from invertebrate preparations, most notably the squid giant synapse1
. However, except for the preparation described here, few vertebrate preparations exist in which it is possible to make simultaneous measurements of neurotransmitter release and presynaptic ionic currents. Embryonic Xenopus
motoneurons and muscle cells can be grown together in simple culture medium at room temperature; they will form functional synapses within twelve to twenty-four hours, and can be used to study nerve and muscle cell development and synaptic interactions for several days (until overgrowth occurs). Some advantages of these co-cultures over other vertebrate preparations include the simplicity of preparation, the ability to maintain the cultures and work at room temperature, and the ready accessibility of the synapses formed2-4
. The preparation has been used widely to study the biophysical properties of presynaptic ion channels and the regulation of transmitter release5-8
. In addition, the preparation has lent itself to other uses including the study of neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis9-12
, molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter release13-15
, the role of diffusible messengers in neuromodulation16,17
, and in vitro
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biophysics, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Electrophysiology, Neurophysiology, Xenopus, patch clamp, primary culture, embryo, synapses, synaptogenesis, synaptic currents, neurotransmitter release, varicosity, neurite guidance, neurons, motoneurons, cell culture, microdisection, animal model
Monitoring Changes in the Intracellular Calcium Concentration and Synaptic Efficacy in the Mollusc Aplysia
Institutions: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Phase Five Communications Inc..
It has been suggested that changes in intracellular calcium mediate the induction of a number of important forms of synaptic plasticity (e.g., homosynaptic facilitation) 1
. These hypotheses can be tested by simultaneously monitoring changes in intracellular calcium and alterations in synaptic efficacy. We demonstrate how this can be accomplished by combining calcium imaging with intracellular recording techniques. Our experiments are conducted in a buccal ganglion of the mollusc Aplysia californica
. This preparation has a number of experimentally advantageous features: Ganglia can be easily removed from Aplysia
and experiments use adult neurons that make normal synaptic connections and have a normal ion channel distribution. Due to the low metabolic rate of the animal and the relatively low temperatures (14-16 °C) that are natural for Aplysia
, preparations are stable for long periods of time.
To detect changes in intracellular free calcium we will use the cell impermeant version of Calcium Orange 2
which is easily 'loaded' into a neuron via iontophoresis. When this long wavelength fluorescent dye binds to calcium, fluorescence intensity increases. Calcium Orange has fast kinetic properties 3
and, unlike ratiometric dyes (e.g., Fura 2), requires no filter wheel for imaging. It is fairly photo stable and less phototoxic than other dyes (e.g., fluo-3) 2,4
. Like all non-ratiometric dyes, Calcium Orange indicates relative changes in calcium concentration. But, because it is not possible to account for changes in dye concentration due to loading and diffusion, it can not be calibrated to provide absolute calcium concentrations.
An upright, fixed stage, compound microscope was used to image neurons with a CCD camera capable of recording around 30 frames per second. In Aplysia
this temporal resolution is more than adequate to detect even a single spike induced alteration in the intracellular calcium concentration. Sharp electrodes are simultaneously used to induce and record synaptic transmission in identified pre- and postsynaptic neurons. At the conclusion of each trial, a custom script combines electrophysiology and imaging data. To ensure proper synchronization we use a light pulse from a LED mounted in the camera port of the microscope. Manipulation of presynaptic calcium levels (e.g. via intracellular EGTA injection) allows us to test specific hypotheses, concerning the role of intracellular calcium in mediating various forms of plasticity.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Marine Biology, calcium imaging, intracellular recording, invertebrate, mollusc, Aplysia, Calcium Orange, facilitation, synaptic plasticity
Presynaptically Silent Synapses Studied with Light Microscopy
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
Synaptic plasticity likely underlies the nervous system's ability to learn and remember and may also represent an adaptability that prevents otherwise damaging insults from becoming neurotoxic. We have been studying a form of presynaptic plasticity that is interesting in part because it is expressed as a digital switching on and off of a presynaptic terminal s ability to release vesicles containing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Here we demonstrate a protocol for visualizing the activity status of presynaptic terminals in dissociated cell cultures prepared from the rodent hippocampus. The method relies on detecting active synapses using staining with a fixable form of the styryl dye FM1-43, commonly used to label synaptic vesicles. This staining profile is compared with immunostaining of the same terminals with an antibody directed against the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT-1), a stain designed to label all glutamate synapses regardless of activation status. We find that depolarizing stimuli induce presynaptic silencing. The population of synapses that is silent under baseline conditions can be activated by prolonged electrical silencing or by activation of cAMP signaling pathways.
Neurobiology, Issue 35, glutamate, synaptic plasticity, cAMP, excitotoxicity, homeostasis, FM1-43, presynaptic plasticity
Loading Drosophila Nerve Terminals with Calcium Indicators
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Calcium plays many roles in the nervous system but none more impressive than as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, and none more profound than as the messenger essential for the synaptic plasticity that supports learning and memory. To further elucidate the molecular underpinnings of Ca2+
-dependent synaptic mechanisms, a model system is required that is both genetically malleable and physiologically accessible. Drosophila melanogaster provides such a model. In this system, genetically-encoded fluorescent indicators are available to detect Ca2+
changes in nerve terminals. However, these indicators have limited sensitivity to Ca2+
and often show a non-linear response. Synthetic fluorescent indicators are better suited for measuring the rapid Ca2+
changes associated with nerve activity. Here we demonstrate a technique for loading dextran-conjugated synthetic Ca2+
indicators into live nerve terminals in Drosophila larvae. Particular emphasis is placed on those aspects of the protocol most critical to the technique's success, such as how to avoid static electricity discharges along the isolated nerves, maintaining the health of the preparation during extended loading periods, and ensuring axon survival by providing Ca2+
to promote sealing of severed axon endings. Low affinity dextran-conjugated Ca2+
-indicators, such as fluo-4 and rhod, are available which show a high signal-to-noise ratio while minimally disrupting presynaptic Ca2+
dynamics. Dextran-conjugation helps prevent Ca2+
indicators being sequestered into organelles such as mitochondria. The loading technique can be applied equally to larvae, embryos and adults.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Drosophila, neuron, imaging
Measuring Exocytosis in Neurons Using FM Labeling
The ability to measure the kinetics of vesicle release can help provide insight into some of the basics of neurotransmission. Here we used real-time imaging of vesicles labeled with FM dye to monitor the rate of presynaptic vesicle release. FM4-64 is a red fluorescent amphiphilic styryl dye that embeds into the membranes of synaptic vesicles as endocytosis is stimulated. Lipophilic interactions cause the dye to greatly increase in fluorescence, thus emitting a bright signal when associated with vesicles and a nominal one when in the extracellular fluid. After a wash step is used to help remove external dye within the plasma membrane, the remaining FM is concentrated within the vesicles and is then expelled when exocytosis is induced by another round of electrical stimulation. The rate of vesicles release is measured from the resulting decrease in fluorescence. Since FM dye can be applied external and transiently, it is a useful tool for determining rates of exocytosis in neuronal cultures, especially when comparing the rates between transfected synapses and neighboring control boutons.
Neuroscience, Issue 1, neuron, imaging, exocytosis