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Track-a-worm, an open-source system for quantitative assessment of C. elegans locomotory and bending behavior.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
A major challenge of neuroscience is to understand the circuit and gene bases of behavior. C. elegans is commonly used as a model system to investigate how various gene products function at specific tissue, cellular, and synaptic foci to produce complicated locomotory and bending behavior. The investigation generally requires quantitative behavioral analyses using an automated single-worm tracker, which constantly records and analyzes the position and body shape of a freely moving worm at a high magnification. Many single-worm trackers have been developed to meet lab-specific needs, but none has been widely implemented for various reasons, such as hardware difficult to assemble, and software lacking sufficient functionality, having closed source code, or using a programming language that is not broadly accessible. The lack of a versatile system convenient for wide implementation makes data comparisons difficult and compels other labs to develop new worm trackers. Here we describe Track-A-Worm, a system rich in functionality, open in source code, and easy to use. The system includes plug-and-play hardware (a stereomicroscope, a digital camera and a motorized stage), custom software written to run with Matlab in Windows 7, and a detailed user manual. Grayscale images are automatically converted to binary images followed by head identification and placement of 13 markers along a deduced spline. The software can extract and quantify a variety of parameters, including distance traveled, average speed, distance/time/speed of forward and backward locomotion, frequency and amplitude of dominant bends, overall bending activities measured as root mean square, and sum of all bends. It also plots worm travel path, bend trace, and bend frequency spectrum. All functionality is performed through graphical user interfaces and data is exported to clearly-annotated and documented Excel files. These features make Track-A-Worm a good candidate for implementation in other labs.
Authors: Alicia Jago, Tewa Kpulun, Kathleen M. Raley-Susman, Jenny Magnes.
Published: 04-18-2014
This study demonstrates an inexpensive and straightforward technique that allows the measurement of physical properties such as position, velocity, acceleration and forces involved in the locomotory behavior of nematodes suspended in a column of water in response to single wavelengths of light. We demonstrate how to evaluate the locomotion of a microscopic organism using Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging (SWSI) using two different examples. The first example is a systematic and statistically viable study of the average descent of C. elegans in a column of water. For this study, we used living and dead wildtype C. elegans. When we compared the velocity and direction of nematode active movement with the passive descent of dead worms within the gravitational field, this study showed no difference in descent-times. The average descent was 1.5 mm/sec ± 0.1 mm/sec for both the live and dead worms using 633 nm coherent light. The second example is a case study of select individual C. elegans changing direction during the descent in a vertical water column. Acceleration and force are analyzed in this example. This case study demonstrates the scope of other physical properties that can be evaluated using SWSI while evaluating the behavior using single wavelengths in an environment that is not accessible with traditional microscopes. Using this analysis we estimated an individual nematode is capable of thrusting with a force in excess of 28 nN. Our findings indicate that living nematodes exert 28 nN when turning, or moving against the gravitational field. The findings further suggest that nematodes passively descend in a column of water, but can actively resist the force of gravity primarily by turning direction.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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C. elegans Tracking and Behavioral Measurement
Authors: Jirapat Likitlersuang, Greg Stephens, Konstantine Palanski, William S. Ryu.
Institutions: University of Toronto, Vrije Universiteit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, University of Toronto.
We have developed instrumentation, image processing, and data analysis techniques to quantify the locomotory behavior of C. elegans as it crawls on the surface of an agar plate. For the study of the genetic, biochemical, and neuronal basis of behavior, C. elegans is an ideal organism because it is genetically tractable, amenable to microscopy, and shows a number of complex behaviors, including taxis, learning, and social interaction1,2. Behavioral analysis based on tracking the movements of worms as they crawl on agar plates have been particularly useful in the study of sensory behavior3, locomotion4, and general mutational phenotyping5. Our system works by moving the camera and illumination system as the worms crawls on a stationary agar plate, which ensures no mechanical stimulus is transmitted to the worm. Our tracking system is easy to use and includes a semi-automatic calibration feature. A challenge of all video tracking systems is that it generates an enormous amount of data that is intrinsically high dimensional. Our image processing and data analysis programs deal with this challenge by reducing the worms shape into a set of independent components, which comprehensively reconstruct the worms behavior as a function of only 3-4 dimensions6,7. As an example of the process we show that the worm enters and exits its reversal state in a phase specific manner.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physics, Biophysics, Anatomy, Microscopy, Ethology, Behavior, Machine Vision, C. elegans, animal model
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Lensfree On-chip Tomographic Microscopy Employing Multi-angle Illumination and Pixel Super-resolution
Authors: Serhan O. Isikman, Waheb Bishara, Aydogan Ozcan.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles , University of California, Los Angeles , University of California, Los Angeles .
Tomographic imaging has been a widely used tool in medicine as it can provide three-dimensional (3D) structural information regarding objects of different size scales. In micrometer and millimeter scales, optical microscopy modalities find increasing use owing to the non-ionizing nature of visible light, and the availability of a rich set of illumination sources (such as lasers and light-emitting-diodes) and detection elements (such as large format CCD and CMOS detector-arrays). Among the recently developed optical tomographic microscopy modalities, one can include optical coherence tomography, optical diffraction tomography, optical projection tomography and light-sheet microscopy. 1-6 These platforms provide sectional imaging of cells, microorganisms and model animals such as C. elegans, zebrafish and mouse embryos. Existing 3D optical imagers generally have relatively bulky and complex architectures, limiting the availability of these equipments to advanced laboratories, and impeding their integration with lab-on-a-chip platforms and microfluidic chips. To provide an alternative tomographic microscope, we recently developed lensfree optical tomography (LOT) as a high-throughput, compact and cost-effective optical tomography modality. 7 LOT discards the use of lenses and bulky optical components, and instead relies on multi-angle illumination and digital computation to achieve depth-resolved imaging of micro-objects over a large imaging volume. LOT can image biological specimen at a spatial resolution of <1 μm x <1 μm x <3 μm in the x, y and z dimensions, respectively, over a large imaging volume of 15-100 mm3, and can be particularly useful for lab-on-a-chip platforms.
Bioengineering, Issue 66, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, lensfree imaging, lensless imaging, on-chip microscopy, lensfree tomography, 3D microscopy, pixel super-resolution, C. elegans, optical sectioning, lab-on-a-chip
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Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Authors: Cody Locke, Kalen Berry, Bwarenaba Kautu, Kyle Lee, Kim Caldwell, Guy Caldwell.
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits. Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ. Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
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C. elegans Chemotaxis Assay
Authors: Olivia Margie, Chris Palmer, Ian Chin-Sang.
Institutions: Queen's University , Queen's University , Queen's University .
Many organisms use chemotaxis to seek out food sources, avoid noxious substances, and find mates. Caenorhabditis elegans has impressive chemotaxis behavior. The premise behind testing the response of the worms to an odorant is to place them in an area and observe the movement evoked in response to an odorant. Even with the many available assays, optimizing worm starting location relative to both the control and test areas, while minimizing the interaction of worms with each other, while maintaining a significant sample size remains a work in progress 1-10. The method described here aims to address these issues by modifying the assay developed by Bargmann et al.1. A Petri dish is divided into four quadrants, two opposite quadrants marked "Test" and two are designated "Control". Anesthetic is placed in all test and control sites. The worms are placed in the center of the plate with a circle marked around the origin to ensure that non-motile worms will be ignored. Utilizing a four-quadrant system rather than one 2 or two 1 eliminates bias in the movement of the worms, as they are equidistant from test and control samples, regardless of which side of the origin they began. This circumvents the problem of worms being forced to travel through a cluster of other worms to respond to an odorant, which can delay worms or force them to take a more circuitous route, yielding an incorrect interpretation of their intended path. This method also shows practical advantages by having a larger sample size and allowing the researcher to run the assay unattended and score the worms once the allotted time has expired.
Behavior, Issue 74, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Chemical Engineering, chemotaxis, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, chemotaxis assay, nematode, chemotactic index, worm movement, animal model
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Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Authors: Tamika K. Samuel, Jason W. Sinclair, Katherine L. Pinter, Iqbal Hamza.
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
In this protocol, we present the required materials, and the procedure for making modified C. elegans Habituation and Reproduction media (mCeHR). Additionally, the steps for exposing and acclimatizing C. elegans grown on E. coli to axenic liquid media are described. Finally, downstream experiments that utilize axenic C. elegans illustrate the benefits of this procedure. The ability to analyze and determine C. elegans nutrient requirement was illustrated by growing N2 wild type worms in axenic liquid media with varying heme concentrations. This procedure can be replicated with other nutrients to determine the optimal concentration for worm growth and development or, to determine the toxicological effects of drug treatments. The effects of varied heme concentrations on the growth of wild type worms were determined through qualitative microscopic observation and by quantitating the number of worms that grew in each heme concentration. In addition, the effect of varied nutrient concentrations can be assayed by utilizing worms that express fluorescent sensors that respond to changes in the nutrient of interest. Furthermore, a large number of worms were easily produced for the generation of transgenic C. elegans using microparticle bombardment.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, C. elegans, axenic media, transgenics, microparticle bombardment, heme, nutrition
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Measuring the Effects of Bacteria on C. Elegans Behavior Using an Egg Retention Assay
Authors: Mona Gardner, Mary Rosell, Edith M. Myers.
Institutions: Fairleigh Dickinson University.
C. elegans egg-laying behavior is affected by environmental cues such as osmolarity1 and vibration2. In the total absence of food C. elegans also cease egg-laying and retain fertilized eggs in their uterus3. However, the effect of different sources of food, especially pathogenic bacteria and particularly Enterococcus faecalis, on egg-laying behavior is not well characterized. The egg-in-worm (EIW) assay is a useful tool to quantify the effects of different types of bacteria, in this case E. faecalis, on egg- laying behavior. EIW assays involve counting the number of eggs retained in the uterus of C. elegans4. The EIW assay involves bleaching staged, gravid adult C. elegans to remove the cuticle and separate the retained eggs from the animal. Prior to bleaching, worms are exposed to bacteria (or any type of environmental cue) for a fixed period of time. After bleaching, one is very easily able to count the number of eggs retained inside the uterus of the worms. In this assay, a quantifiable increase in egg retention after E. faecalis exposure can be easily measured. The EIW assay is a behavioral assay that may be used to screen for potentially pathogenic bacteria or the presence of environmental toxins. In addition, the EIW assay may be a tool to screen for drugs that affect neurotransmitter signaling since egg-laying behavior is modulated by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and acetylcholine5-9.
Developmental Biology, Issue 80, Microbiology, C. elegans, Behavior, Animal, Microbiology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Enterococcus faecalis, egg-laying behavior, animal model
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Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Authors: Kathryn N. Maher, Mary Catanese, Daniel L. Chase.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans lab.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
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Quantitative and Automated High-throughput Genome-wide RNAi Screens in C. elegans
Authors: Barbara Squiban, Jérôme Belougne, Jonathan Ewbank, Olivier Zugasti.
Institutions: Université de la Méditerranée.
RNA interference is a powerful method to understand gene function, especially when conducted at a whole-genome scale and in a quantitative context. In C. elegans, gene function can be knocked down simply and efficiently by feeding worms with bacteria expressing a dsRNA corresponding to a specific gene 1. While the creation of libraries of RNAi clones covering most of the C. elegans genome 2,3 opened the way for true functional genomic studies (see for example 4-7), most established methods are laborious. Moy and colleagues have developed semi-automated protocols that facilitate genome-wide screens 8. The approach relies on microscopic imaging and image analysis. Here we describe an alternative protocol for a high-throughput genome-wide screen, based on robotic handling of bacterial RNAi clones, quantitative analysis using the COPAS Biosort (Union Biometrica (UBI)), and an integrated software: the MBioLIMS (Laboratory Information Management System from Modul-Bio) a technology that provides increased throughput for data management and sample tracking. The method allows screens to be conducted on solid medium plates. This is particularly important for some studies, such as those addressing host-pathogen interactions in C. elegans, since certain microbes do not efficiently infect worms in liquid culture. We show how the method can be used to quantify the importance of genes in anti-fungal innate immunity in C. elegans. In this case, the approach relies on the use of a transgenic strain carrying an epidermal infection-inducible fluorescent reporter gene, with GFP under the control of the promoter of the antimicrobial peptide gene nlp 29 and a red fluorescent reporter that is expressed constitutively in the epidermis. The latter provides an internal control for the functional integrity of the epidermis and nonspecific transgene silencing9. When control worms are infected by the fungus they fluoresce green. Knocking down by RNAi a gene required for nlp 29 expression results in diminished fluorescence after infection. Currently, this protocol allows more than 3,000 RNAi clones to be tested and analyzed per week, opening the possibility of screening the entire genome in less than 2 months.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, C. elegans, fluorescent reporter, Biosort, LIMS, innate immunity, Drechmeria coniospora
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Microfluidic-based Electrotaxis for On-demand Quantitative Analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans' Locomotion
Authors: Justin Tong, Pouya Rezai, Sangeena Salam, P. Ravi Selvaganapathy, Bhagwati P. Gupta.
Institutions: McMaster University , McMaster University .
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a versatile model organism for biomedical research because of its conservation of disease-related genes and pathways as well as its ease of cultivation. Several C. elegans disease models have been reported, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease (PD), which involves the degeneration of dopaminergic (DA) neurons 1. Both transgenes and neurotoxic chemicals have been used to induce DA neurodegeneration and consequent movement defects in worms, allowing for investigations into the basis of neurodegeneration and screens for neuroprotective genes and compounds 2,3. Screens in lower eukaryotes like C. elegans provide an efficient and economical means to identify compounds and genes affecting neuronal signaling. Conventional screens are typically performed manually and scored by visual inspection; consequently, they are time-consuming and prone to human errors. Additionally, most focus on cellular level analysis while ignoring locomotion, which is an especially important parameter for movement disorders. We have developed a novel microfluidic screening system (Figure 1) that controls and quantifies C. elegans' locomotion using electric field stimuli inside microchannels. We have shown that a Direct Current (DC) field can robustly induce on-demand locomotion towards the cathode ("electrotaxis") 4. Reversing the field's polarity causes the worm to quickly reverse its direction as well. We have also shown that defects in dopaminergic and other sensory neurons alter the swimming response 5. Therefore, abnormalities in neuronal signaling can be determined using locomotion as a read-out. The movement response can be accurately quantified using a range of parameters such as swimming speed, body bending frequency and reversal time. Our work has revealed that the electrotactic response varies with age. Specifically, young adults respond to a lower range of electric fields and move faster compared to larvae 4. These findings led us to design a new microfluidic device to passively sort worms by age and phenotype 6. We have also tested the response of worms to pulsed DC and Alternating Current (AC) electric fields. Pulsed DC fields of various duty cycles effectively generated electrotaxis in both C. elegans and its cousin C. briggsae 7. In another experiment, symmetrical AC fields with frequencies ranging from 1 Hz to 3 KHz immobilized worms inside the channel 8. Implementation of the electric field in a microfluidic environment enables rapid and automated execution of the electrotaxis assay. This approach promises to facilitate high-throughput genetic and chemical screens for factors affecting neuronal function and viability.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Behavior, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Mechanical Engineering, Microfluidics, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, Neurotoxicity Syndromes, Drug Toxicity, Neurotoxicity Syndromes, Biological Agents, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Toxicity Tests, Locomotion, Nervous System Diseases, electrotaxis, locomotion, swimming, movement, neurodegeneration, neuronal signaling, dopamine, neurons, animal model
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Authors: Christopher J. Gaffney, Joseph J. Bass, Thomas F. Barratt, Nathaniel J. Szewczyk.
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
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Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Authors: Denise Wernike, Chloe van Oostende, Alisa Piekny.
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
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Quantitative Locomotion Study of Freely Swimming Micro-organisms Using Laser Diffraction
Authors: Jenny Magnes, Kathleen Susman, Rebecca Eells.
Institutions: Vassar College, Vassar College.
Soil and aquatic microscopic organisms live and behave in a complex three-dimensional environment. Most studies of microscopic organism behavior, in contrast, have been conducted using microscope-based approaches, which limit the movement and behavior to a narrow, nearly two-dimensional focal field.1 We present a novel analytical approach that provides real-time analysis of freely swimming C. elegans in a cuvette without dependence on microscope-based equipment. This approach consists of tracking the temporal periodicity of diffraction patterns generated by directing laser light through the cuvette. We measure oscillation frequencies for freely swimming nematodes. Analysis of the far-field diffraction patterns reveals clues about the waveforms of the nematodes. Diffraction is the process of light bending around an object. In this case light is diffracted by the organisms. The light waves interfere and can form a diffraction pattern. A far-field, or Fraunhofer, diffraction pattern is formed if the screen-to-object distance is much larger than the diffracting object. In this case, the diffraction pattern can be calculated (modeled) using a Fourier transform.2 C. elegans are free-living soil-dwelling nematodes that navigate in three dimensions. They move both on a solid matrix like soil or agar in a sinusoidal locomotory pattern called crawling and in liquid in a different pattern called swimming.3 The roles played by sensory information provided by mechanosensory, chemosensory, and thermosensory cells that govern plastic changes in locomotory patterns and switches in patterns are only beginning to be elucidated.4 We describe an optical approach to measuring nematode locomotion in three dimensions that does not require a microscope and will enable us to begin to explore the complexities of nematode locomotion under different conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, diffraction, video analysis, freely swimming, autocorrelation, laser, locomotion
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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Acquiring Fluorescence Time-lapse Movies of Budding Yeast and Analyzing Single-cell Dynamics using GRAFTS
Authors: Christopher J. Zopf, Narendra Maheshri.
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Fluorescence time-lapse microscopy has become a powerful tool in the study of many biological processes at the single-cell level. In particular, movies depicting the temporal dependence of gene expression provide insight into the dynamics of its regulation; however, there are many technical challenges to obtaining and analyzing fluorescence movies of single cells. We describe here a simple protocol using a commercially available microfluidic culture device to generate such data, and a MATLAB-based, graphical user interface (GUI) -based software package to quantify the fluorescence images. The software segments and tracks cells, enables the user to visually curate errors in the data, and automatically assigns lineage and division times. The GUI further analyzes the time series to produce whole cell traces as well as their first and second time derivatives. While the software was designed for S. cerevisiae, its modularity and versatility should allow it to serve as a platform for studying other cell types with few modifications.
Microbiology, Issue 77, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biophysics, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Cell Biology, microscopy/fluorescence and time-lapse, budding yeast, gene expression dynamics, segmentation, lineage tracking, image tracking, software, yeast, cells, imaging
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Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Authors: James J. Jun, André Longtin, Leonard Maler.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
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Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Authors: Elizabeth C. Pino, Christopher M. Webster, Christopher E. Carr, Alexander A. Soukas.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans metabolic research.
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
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An Introduction to Worm Lab: from Culturing Worms to Mutagenesis
Authors: Jyotiska Chaudhuri, Manish Parihar, Andre Pires-daSilva.
Institutions: University of Texas at Arlington.
This protocol describes procedures to maintain nematodes in the laboratory and how to mutagenize them using two alternative methods: ethyl methane sulfonate (EMS) and 4, 5', 8-trimethylpsoralen combined with ultraviolet light (TMP/UV). Nematodes are powerful biological systems for genetics studies because of their simple body plan and mating system, which is composed of self-fertilizing hermaphrodites and males that can generate hundreds of progeny per animal. Nematodes are maintained in agar plates containing a lawn of bacteria and can be easily transferred from one plate to another using a pick. EMS is an alkylating agent commonly used to induce point mutations and small deletions, while TMP/UV mainly induces deletions. Depending on the species of nematode being used, concentrations of EMS and TMP will have to be optimized. To isolate recessive mutations of the nematode Pristionchus pacificus, animals of the F2 generation were visually screened for phenotypes. To illustrate these methods, we mutagenized worms and looked for Uncoordinated (Unc), Dumpy (Dpy) and Transformer (Tra) mutants.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Mutagenesis, Caenorhabditis elegans, Pristionchus pacificus, ethyl methane sulfonate (EMS), 4, 5', 8-trimethylpsoralen (TMP).
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Generation of Stable Transgenic C. elegans Using Microinjection
Authors: Laura A. Berkowitz, Adam L. Knight, Guy A. Caldwell, Kim A. Caldwell.
Institutions: University of Alabama.
Transgenic Caenorhabditis elegans can be readily created via microinjection of a DNA plasmid solution into the gonad 1. The plasmid DNA rearranges to form extrachromosomal concatamers that are stably inherited, though not with the same efficiency as actual chromosomes 2. A gene of interest is co-injected with an obvious phenotypic marker, such as rol-6 or GFP, to allow selection of transgenic animals under a dissecting microscope. The exogenous gene may be expressed from its native promoter for cellular localization studies. Alternatively, the transgene can be driven by a different tissue-specific promoter to assess the role of the gene product in that particular cell or tissue. This technique efficiently drives gene expression in all tissues of C. elegans except for the germline or early embryo 3. Creation of transgenic animals is widely utilized for a range of experimental paradigms. This video demonstrates the microinjection procedure to generate transgenic worms. Furthermore, selection and maintenance of stable transgenic C. elegans lines is described.
Developmental Biology, Issue 18, C. elegans, microinjection, transgenic, stable lines
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Dissecting and Recording from The C. Elegans Neuromuscular Junction
Authors: Janet Richmond.
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago.
Neurotransmission is the process by which neurons transfer information via chemical signals to their post-synaptic targets, on a rapid time scale. This complex process requires the coordinated activity of many pre- and post-synaptic proteins to ensure appropriate synaptic connectivity, conduction of electrical signals, targeting and priming of secretory vesicles, calcium sensing, vesicle fusion, localization and function of postsynaptic receptors and finally, recycling mechanisms. As neuroscientists it is our goal to elucidate which proteins function in each of these steps and understand their mechanisms of action. Electrophysiological recordings from synapses provide a quantifiable read out of the underlying electrical events that occur during synaptic transmission. By combining this technique with the powerful array of molecular and genetic tools available to manipulate synaptic proteins in C. elegans, we can analyze the resulting functional changes in synaptic transmission. The C. elegans NMJs formed between motor neurons and body wall muscles control locomotion, therefore, mutants with uncoordinated locomotory phenotypes (known as unc s) often perturb synaptic transmission at these synapses 1. Since unc mutants are maintained on a rich supply of a bacterial food source, they remain viable as long as they retain some pharyngeal pumping ability to ingest food. This, together with the fact that C. elegans exist as hermaphrodites, allows them to pass on mutant progeny without the need for elaborate mating behaviors. These attributes, coupled with our recent ability to record from the worms NMJs 2,3,7 make this an excellent model organism in which to address precisely how unc mutants impact neurotransmission. The dissection method involves immobilizing adult worms using a cyanoacrylic glue in order to make an incision in the worm cuticle exposing the NMJs. Since C. elegans adults are only 1 mm in length the dissection is performed with the use of a dissecting microscope and requires excellent hand-eye coordination. NMJ recordings are made by whole-cell voltage clamping individual body wall muscle cells and neurotransmitter release can be evoked using a variety of stimulation protocols including electrical stimulation, light-activated channel-rhodopsin-mediated depolarization 4 and hyperosmotic saline, all of which will be briefly described.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Caenorhabditis elegans, electrophysiology, neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission
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