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 and GABAC 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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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
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
Selective Tracing of Auditory Fibers in the Avian Embryonic Vestibulocochlear Nerve
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
The embryonic chick is a widely used model for the study of peripheral and central ganglion cell projections. In the auditory system, selective labeling of auditory axons within the VIIIth cranial nerve would enhance the study of central auditory circuit development. This approach is challenging because multiple sensory organs of the inner ear contribute to the VIIIth nerve 1
. Moreover, markers that reliably distinguish auditory versus vestibular groups of axons within the avian VIIIth nerve have yet to be identified. Auditory and vestibular pathways cannot be distinguished functionally in early embryos, as sensory-evoked responses are not present before the circuits are formed. Centrally projecting VIIIth nerve axons have been traced in some studies, but auditory axon labeling was accompanied by labeling from other VIIIth nerve components 2,3
. Here, we describe a method for anterograde tracing from the acoustic ganglion to selectively label auditory axons within the developing VIIIth nerve. First, after partial dissection of the anterior cephalic region of an 8-day chick embryo immersed in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid, the cochlear duct is identified by anatomical landmarks. Next, a fine pulled glass micropipette is positioned to inject a small amount of rhodamine dextran amine into the duct and adjacent deep region where the acoustic ganglion cells are located. Within thirty minutes following the injection, auditory axons are traced centrally into the hindbrain and can later be visualized following histologic preparation. This method provides a useful tool for developmental studies of peripheral to central auditory circuit formation.
Neurobiology, Issue 73, Neuroscience, Behavior, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Development, Inner Ear, Cochlea, Auditory, Chick, Axon Tracing, VIIIth Cranial Nerve, nerve, ganglion, fiber, cochlear duct, basilar papilla, embryo, microinjection, animal model
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
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
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
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
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
Isolation and Culture of Dissociated Sensory Neurons From Chick Embryos
Institutions: Assumption College.
Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo
can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro
can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, dorsal root gangia, DRG, chicken, in vitro, avian, laminin-1, embryonic, primary
Optogenetic Stimulation of the Auditory Nerve
Institutions: University Medical Center Goettingen, University of Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, University of Goettingen, University of Guanajuato.
Direct electrical stimulation of spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) by cochlear implants (CIs) enables open speech comprehension in the majority of implanted deaf subjects1-6
. Nonetheless, sound coding with current CIs has poor frequency and intensity resolution due to broad current spread from each electrode contact activating a large number of SGNs along the tonotopic axis of the cochlea7-9
. Optical stimulation is proposed as an alternative to electrical stimulation that promises spatially more confined activation of SGNs and, hence, higher frequency resolution of coding. In recent years, direct infrared illumination of the cochlea has been used to evoke responses in the auditory nerve10
. Nevertheless it requires higher energies than electrical stimulation10,11
and uncertainty remains as to the underlying mechanism12
. Here we describe a method based on optogenetics to stimulate SGNs with low intensity blue light, using transgenic mice with neuronal expression of channelrhodopsin 2 (ChR2)13
or virus-mediated expression of the ChR2-variant CatCh14
. We used micro-light emitting diodes (µLEDs) and fiber-coupled lasers to stimulate ChR2-expressing SGNs through a small artificial opening (cochleostomy) or the round window. We assayed the responses by scalp recordings of light-evoked potentials (optogenetic auditory brainstem response: oABR) or by microelectrode recordings from the auditory pathway and compared them with acoustic and electrical stimulation.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, hearing, cochlear implant, optogenetics, channelrhodopsin, optical stimulation, deafness
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
Analysis of Neural Crest Migration and Differentiation by Cross-species Transplantation
Institutions: Rice University .
Avian embryos provide a unique platform for studying many vertebrate developmental processes, due to the easy access of the embryos within the egg. Chimeric avian embryos, in which quail donor tissue is transplanted into a chick embryo in ovo
, combine the power of indelible genetic labeling of cell populations with the ease of manipulation presented by the avian embryo.
Quail-chick chimeras are a classical tool for tracing migratory neural crest cells (NCCs)1-3
. NCCs are a transient migratory population of cells in the embryo, which originate in the dorsal region of the developing neural tube4
. They undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition and subsequently migrate to other regions of the embryo, where they differentiate into various cell types including cartilage5-13
, neurons and glia21-32
. NCCs are multipotent, and their ultimate fate is influenced by 1) the region of the neural tube in which they originate along the rostro-caudal axis of the embryo11,33-37
, 2) signals from neighboring cells as they migrate38-44
, and 3) the microenvironment of their ultimate destination within the embryo45,46
. Tracing these cells from their point of origin at the neural tube, to their final position and fate within the embryo, provides important insight into the developmental processes that regulate patterning and organogenesis.
Transplantation of complementary regions of donor neural tube (homotopic grafting) or different regions of donor neural tube (heterotopic grafting) can reveal differences in pre-specification of NCCs along the rostro-caudal axis2,47
. This technique can be further adapted to transplant a unilateral compartment of the neural tube, such that one side is derived from donor tissue, and the contralateral side remains unperturbed in the host embryo, yielding an internal control within the same sample2,47
. It can also be adapted for transplantation of brain segments in later embryos, after HH10, when the anterior neural tube has closed47
Here we report techniques for generating quail-chick chimeras via neural tube transplantation, which allow for tracing of migratory NCCs derived from a discrete segment of the neural tube. Species-specific labeling of the donor-derived cells with the quail-specific QCPN antibody48-56
allows the researcher to distinguish donor and host cells at the experimental end point. This technique is straightforward, inexpensive, and has many applications, including fate-mapping, cell lineage tracing, and identifying pre-patterning events along the rostro-caudal axis45
. Because of the ease of access to the avian embryo, the quail-chick graft technique may be combined with other manipulations, including but not limited to lens ablation40
, injection of inhibitory molecules57,58
, or genetic manipulation via electroporation of expression plasmids59-61
, to identify the response of particular migratory streams of NCCs to perturbations in the embryo's developmental program. Furthermore, this grafting technique may also be used to generate other interspecific chimeric embryos such as quail-duck chimeras to study NCC contribution to craniofacial morphogenesis, or mouse-chick chimeras to combine the power of mouse genetics with the ease of manipulation of the avian embryo.62
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Neural crest, chick, quail, chimera, fate map, cell migration, cell differentiation
Dopamine Release at Individual Presynaptic Terminals Visualized with FFNs
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University, eMolecules, Inc., University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, New York Psychiatric Institute.
The nervous system transmits signals between neurons via neurotransmitter release during synaptic vesicle fusion. To observe neurotransmitter uptake and release from individual presynaptic terminals directly, we designed fluorescent false neurotransmitters as substrates for the synaptic vesicle monoamine transporter. Using these probes to image dopamine release in the striatum, we made several observations pertinent to synaptic plasticity. We found that the fraction of synaptic vesicles releasing neurotransmitter per stimulus was dependent on the stimulus frequency. A kinetically distinct "reserve" synaptic vesicle population was not observed under these experimental conditions. A frequency-dependent heterogeneity of presynaptic terminals was revealed that was dependent in part on D2 dopamine receptors, indicating a mechanism for frequency-dependent coding of presynaptic selection.
Hui Zhang and Niko G. Gubernator contributed equally to this work.
Neuroscience, Issue 30, striatal slice, dopamine, synapse, synaptic vesicles, amphetamine, optical imaging, fluorescence, release
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, 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.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
Physiological Recordings of High and Low Output NMJs on the Crayfish Leg Extensor Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
We explain in detail how to expose and conduct electrophysiological recordings of synaptic responses for high (phasic) and low (tonic) output motor neurons innervating the extensor muscle in the walking leg of a crayfish. Distinct differences are present in the physiology and morphology of the phasic and tonic nerve terminals. The tonic axon contains many more mitochondria, enabling it to take a vital stain more intensely than the phasic axon. The tonic terminals have varicosities, and the phasic terminal is filiform. The tonic terminals are low in synaptic efficacy but show dramatic facilitated responses. In contrast, the phasic terminals are high in quantal efficacy but show synaptic depression with high frequency stimulation. The quantal output is measured with a focal macropatch electrode placed directly over the visualized nerve terminals. Both phasic and tonic terminals innervate the same muscle fibers, which suggests that inherent differences in the neurons, rather than differential retrograde feedback from the muscle, account for the morphological and physiological differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, crayfish, neuromuscular junction, invertebrate, motor neuron, muscle
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
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
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
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
Historical View and Physiology Demonstration at the NMJ of the Crayfish Opener Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
Here we present some of the key important discoveries made with the opener neuromuscular (NMJ) preparation of crustaceans and illustrate that there is still much to learn from this model preparation. In understanding the history one can appreciate why even today this NMJ still offers a rich playground to address questions regarding pre- and post-synaptic function and plasticity. The viability and ease of access to the terminal for intracellular as well as extracellular electrophysiology and imaging are significant advantages. The mechanisms behind the modulation of vesicular kinetics and fusion within the high- and low-output terminals are begging for investigation. The preparation also offers a testable model system for computational assessments and manipulations to examine key variables in theoretical models of synaptic function, for example calcium dynamics during short-term facilitation. The synaptic complexity of active zone and statistical nature of quantal release is also an open area for future investigation both experimentally and computationally.
Cellular Biology, Issue 33, invertebrate, NMJ, synapse, quanta, vesicle
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
Methods for Patch Clamp Capacitance Recordings from the Calyx
Institutions: National Institute of Health.
We demonstrate the basic techniques for presynaptic patch clamp recording at the calyx of Held, a mammalian central nervous system nerve terminal. Electrical recordings from the presynaptic terminal allow the measurement of action potentials, calcium channel currents, vesicle fusion (exocytosis) and subsequent membrane uptake (endocytosis). The fusion of vesicles containing neurotransmitter causes the vesicle membrane to be added to the cell membrane of the calyx. This increase in the amount of cell membrane is measured as an increase in capacitance. The subsequent reduction in capacitance indicates endocytosis, the process of membrane uptake or removal from the calyx membrane. Endocytosis, is necessary to maintain the structure of the calyx and it is also necessary to form vesicles that will be filled with neurotransmitter for future exocytosis events. Capacitance recordings at the calyx of Held have made it possible to directly and rapidly measure vesicular release and subsequent endocytosis in a mammalian CNS nerve terminal. In addition, the corresponding postsynaptic activity can be simultaneously measured by using paired recordings. Thus a complete picture of the presynaptic and postsynaptic electrical activity at a central nervous system synapse is achievable using this preparation. Here, the methods for slice preparation, morphological features for identification of calyces of Held, basic patch clamping techniques, and examples of capacitance recordings to measure exocytosis and endocytosis are presented.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, membrane fusion, exocytosis, endocytosis