Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Localized RNAi and Ectopic Gene Expression in the Medicinal Leech
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD, University of California San Diego - UCSD.
In this video, we show the use of a pneumatic capillary gun for the accurate biolistic delivery of reagents into live tissue. We use the procedure to perturb gene expression patterns in selected segments of leech embryos, leaving the untreated segments as internal controls.
The pneumatic capillary gun can be used to reach internal layers of cells at early stages of development without opening the specimen. As a method for localized introduction of substances into living tissues, the biolistic delivery with the gun has several advantages: it is fast, contact-free and non-destructive. In addition, a single capillary gun can be used for independent delivery of different substances. The delivery region can have lateral dimensions of ~50-150 µm and extends over ~15 µm around the mean penetration depth, which is adjustable between 0 and 50 µm. This delivery has the advantage of being able to target a limited number of cells in a selected location intermediate between single cell knock down by microinjection and systemic knockdown through extracellular injections or by means of genetic approaches.
For knocking down or knocking in the expression of the axon guidance molecule Netrin, which is naturally expressed by some central neurons and in the ventral body wall, but not the dorsal domain, we deliver molecules of dsRNA or plasmid-DNA into the body wall and central ganglia. This procedure includes the following steps: (i) preparation of the experimental setup for a specific assay (adjusting the accelerating pressure), (ii) coating the particles with molecules of dsRNA or DNA, (iii) loading the coated particles into the gun, up to two reagents in one assay, (iv) preparing the animals for the particle delivery, (v) delivery of coated particles into the target tissue (body wall or ganglia), and (vi) processing the embryos (immunostaining, immunohistochemistry and neuronal labeling) to visualize the results, usually 2 to 3 days after the delivery.
When the particles were coated with netrin dsRNA, they caused clearly visible knock-down of netrin expression that only occurred in cells containing particles (usually, 1-2 particles per cell). Particles coated with a plasmid encoding EGFP induced fluorescence in neuronal cells when they stopped in their nuclei.
Neuroscience, Issue 14, leech, netrin, axon guidance, development, mechanosensory neurons, gene gun, RNAi
Dissection and Culture of Mouse Dopaminergic and Striatal Explants in Three-Dimensional Collagen Matrix Assays
Institutions: University Medical Center Utrecht.
Midbrain dopamine (mdDA) neurons project via the medial forebrain bundle towards several areas in the telencephalon, including the striatum1
. Reciprocally, medium spiny neurons in the striatum that give rise to the striatonigral (direct) pathway innervate the substantia nigra2
. The development of these axon tracts is dependent upon the combinatorial actions of a plethora of axon growth and guidance cues including molecules that are released by neurites or by (intermediate) target regions3,4
. These soluble factors can be studied in vitro
by culturing mdDA and/or striatal explants in a collagen matrix which provides a three-dimensional substrate for the axons mimicking the extracellular environment. In addition, the collagen matrix allows for the formation of relatively stable gradients of proteins released by other explants or cells placed in the vicinity (e.g. see references 5 and 6). Here we describe methods for the purification of rat tail collagen, microdissection of dopaminergic and striatal explants, their culture in collagen gels and subsequent immunohistochemical and quantitative analysis. First, the brains of E14.5 mouse embryos are isolated and dopaminergic and striatal explants are microdissected. These explants are then (co)cultured in collagen gels on coverslips for 48 to 72 hours in vitro
. Subsequently, axonal projections are visualized using neuronal markers (e.g. tyrosine hydroxylase, DARPP32, or βIII tubulin) and axon growth and attractive or repulsive axon responses are quantified. This neuronal preparation is a useful tool for in vitro
studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of mesostriatal and striatonigral axon growth and guidance during development. Using this assay, it is also possible to assess other (intermediate) targets for dopaminergic and striatal axons or to test specific molecular cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Axon guidance, collagen matrix, development, dissection, dopamine, medium spiny neuron, rat tail collagen, striatum, striatonigral, mesostriatal
Micropunching Lithography for Generating Micro- and Submicron-patterns on Polymer Substrates
Institutions: University of Texas at Arlington .
Conducting polymers have attracted great attention since the discovery of high conductivity in doped polyacetylene in 19771
. They offer the advantages of low weight, easy tailoring of properties and a wide spectrum of applications2,3
. Due to sensitivity of conducting polymers to environmental conditions (e.g., air, oxygen, moisture, high temperature and chemical solutions), lithographic techniques present significant technical challenges when working with these materials4
. For example, current photolithographic methods, such as ultra-violet (UV), are unsuitable for patterning the conducting polymers due to the involvement of wet and/or dry etching processes in these methods. In addition, current micro/nanosystems mainly have a planar form5,6
. One layer of structures is built on the top surfaces of another layer of fabricated features. Multiple layers of these structures are stacked together to form numerous devices on a common substrate. The sidewall surfaces of the microstructures have not been used in constructing devices. On the other hand, sidewall patterns could be used, for example, to build 3-D circuits, modify fluidic channels and direct horizontal growth of nanowires and nanotubes.
A macropunching method has been applied in the manufacturing industry to create macropatterns in a sheet metal for over a hundred years. Motivated by this approach, we have developed a micropunching lithography method (MPL) to overcome the obstacles of patterning conducting polymers and generating sidewall patterns. Like the macropunching method, the MPL also includes two operations (Fig. 1
): (i) cutting; and (ii) drawing. The "cutting" operation was applied to pattern three conducting polymers4
, polypyrrole (PPy), Poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophen)-poly(4-styrenesulphonate) (PEDOT) and polyaniline (PANI). It was also employed to create Al microstructures7
. The fabricated microstructures of conducting polymers have been used as humidity8
, and glucose sensors9
. Combined microstructures of Al and conducting polymers have been employed to fabricate capacitors and various heterojunctions9,10,11
. The "cutting" operation was also applied to generate submicron-patterns, such as 100- and 500-nm-wide PPy lines as well as 100-nm-wide Au wires. The "drawing" operation was employed for two applications: (i) produce Au sidewall patterns on high density polyethylene (HDPE) channels which could be used for building 3D microsystems12,13,14
, and (ii) fabricate polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) micropillars on HDPE substrates to increase the contact angle of the channel15
Mechanical Engineering, Issue 65, Physics, micropunching lithography, conducting polymers, nanowires, sidewall patterns, microlines
Micropatterned Surfaces to Study Hyaluronic Acid Interactions with Cancer Cells
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Cancer invasion and progression involves a motile cell phenotype, which is under complex regulation by growth factors/cytokines and extracellular matrix (ECM) components within the tumor microenvironment. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is one stromal ECM component that is known to facilitate tumor progression by enhancing invasion, growth, and angiogenesis1
. Interaction of HA with its cell surface receptor CD44 induces signaling events that promote tumor cell growth, survival, and migration, thereby increasing metastatic spread2-3
. HA is an anionic, nonsulfated glycosaminoglycan composed of repeating units of D-glucuronic acid and D-N-acetylglucosamine. Due to the presence of carboxyl and hydroxyl groups on repeating disaccharide units, native HA is largely hydrophilic and amenable to chemical modifications that introduce sulfate groups for photoreative immobilization 4-5
. Previous studies involving the immobilizations of HA onto surfaces utilize the bioresistant behavior of HA and its sulfated derivative to control cell adhesion onto surfaces6-7
. In these studies cell adhesion preferentially occurs on non-HA patterned regions.
To analyze cellular interactions with exogenous HA, we have developed patterned functionalized surfaces that enable a controllable study and high-resolution visualization of cancer cell interactions with HA. We utilized microcontact printing (uCP) to define discrete patterned regions of HA on glass surfaces. A "tethering" approach that applies carbodiimide linking chemistry to immobilize HA was used 8
. Glass surfaces were microcontact printed with an aminosilane and reacted with a HA solution of optimized ratios of EDC and NHS to enable HA immobilization in patterned arrays. Incorporating carbodiimide chemistry with mCP enabled the immobilization of HA to defined regions, creating surfaces suitable for in vitro
applications. Both colon cancer cells and breast cancer cells implicitly interacted with the HA micropatterned surfaces. Cancer cell adhesion occurred within 24 hours with proliferation by 48 hours. Using HA micropatterned surfaces, we demonstrated that cancer cell adhesion occurs through the HA receptor CD44. Furthermore, HA patterned surfaces were compatible with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and allowed high resolution imaging of cancer cell adhesive protrusions and spreading on HA patterns to analyze cancer cell motility on exogenous HA.
Bioengineering, Issue 46, Hyaluronic acid, microcontact printing, carbodiimide chemistry, cancer, cell adhesion
A Neuronal and Astrocyte Co-Culture Assay for High Content Analysis of Neurotoxicity
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
High Content Analysis (HCA) assays combine cells and detection reagents with automated imaging and powerful image analysis algorithms, allowing measurement of multiple cellular phenotypes within a single assay. In this study, we utilized HCA to develop a novel assay for neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity assessment represents an important part of drug safety evaluation, as well as being a significant focus of environmental protection efforts. Additionally, neurotoxicity is also a well-accepted in vitro
marker of the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Recently, the application of HCA to neuronal screening has been reported. By labeling neuronal cells with βIII-tubulin, HCA assays can provide high-throughput, non-subjective, quantitative measurements of parameters such as neuronal number, neurite count and neurite length, all of which can indicate neurotoxic effects. However, the role of astrocytes remains unexplored in these models. Astrocytes have an integral role in the maintenance of central nervous system (CNS) homeostasis, and are associated with both neuroprotection and neurodegradation when they are activated in response to toxic substances or disease states. GFAP is an intermediate filament protein expressed predominantly in the astrocytes of the CNS. Astrocytic activation (gliosis) leads to the upregulation of GFAP, commonly accompanied by astrocyte proliferation and hypertrophy. This process of reactive gliosis has been proposed as an early marker of damage to the nervous system. The traditional method for GFAP quantitation is by immunoassay. This approach is limited by an inability to provide information on cellular localization, morphology and cell number. We determined that HCA could be used to overcome these limitations and to simultaneously measure multiple features associated with gliosis - changes in GFAP expression, astrocyte hypertrophy, and astrocyte proliferation - within a single assay. In co-culture studies, astrocytes have been shown to protect neurons against several types of toxic insult and to critically influence neuronal survival. Recent studies have suggested that the use of astrocytes in an in vitro
neurotoxicity test system may prove more relevant to human CNS structure and function than neuronal cells alone. Accordingly, we have developed an HCA assay for co-culture of neurons and astrocytes, comprised of protocols and validated, target-specific detection reagents for profiling βIII-tubulin and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). This assay enables simultaneous analysis of neurotoxicity, neurite outgrowth, gliosis, neuronal and astrocytic morphology and neuronal and astrocytic development in a wide variety of cellular models, representing a novel, non-subjective, high-throughput assay for neurotoxicity assessment. The assay holds great potential for enhanced detection of neurotoxicity and improved productivity in neuroscience research and drug discovery.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, high content screening, high content analysis, neurotoxicity, toxicity, drug discovery, neurite outgrowth, astrocytes, neurons, co-culture, immunofluorescence
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
Using plusTipTracker Software to Measure Microtubule Dynamics in Xenopus laevis Growth Cones
Institutions: Boston College.
Microtubule (MT) plus-end-tracking proteins (+TIPs) localize to the growing plus-ends of MTs and regulate MT dynamics1,2
. One of the most well-known and widely-utilized +TIPs for analyzing MT dynamics is the End-Binding protein, EB1, which binds all growing MT plus-ends, and thus, is a marker for MT polymerization1
. Many studies of EB1 behavior within growth cones have used time-consuming and biased computer-assisted, hand-tracking methods to analyze individual MTs1-3
. Our approach is to quantify global parameters of MT dynamics using the software package, plusTipTracker4
, following the acquisition of high-resolution, live images of tagged EB1 in cultured embryonic growth cones5
. This software is a MATLAB-based, open-source, user-friendly package that combines automated detection, tracking, visualization, and analysis for movies of fluorescently-labeled +TIPs. Here, we present the protocol for using plusTipTracker for the analysis of fluorescently-labeled +TIP comets in cultured Xenopus laevis
growth cones. However, this software can also be used to characterize MT dynamics in various cell types6-8
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, plusTipTracker, microtubule plus-end-tracking proteins, EB1, growth cone, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging analysis, microtubule dynamics
Production and Isolation of Axons from Sensory Neurons for Biochemical Analysis Using Porous Filters
Institutions: Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.
Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, neuron, axon, filter inserts, culture system, dorsal root ganglion, axonal degeneration
Isolation and Culture of Hippocampal Neurons from Prenatal Mice
Institutions: Auburn University .
Primary cultures of rat and murine hippocampal neurons are widely used to reveal cellular mechanisms in neurobiology. By isolating and growing individual neurons, researchers are able to analyze properties related to cellular trafficking, cellular structure and individual protein localization using a variety of biochemical techniques. Results from such experiments are critical for testing theories addressing the neural basis of memory and learning. However, unambiguous results from these forms of experiments are predicated on the ability to grow neuronal cultures with minimum contamination by other brain cell types. In this protocol, we use specific media designed for neuron growth and careful dissection of embryonic hippocampal tissue to optimize growth of healthy neurons while minimizing contaminating cell types (i.e. astrocytes). Embryonic mouse hippocampal tissue can be more difficult to isolate than similar rodent tissue due to the size of the sample for dissection. We show detailed dissection techniques of hippocampus from embryonic day 19 (E19) mouse pups. Once hippocampal tissue is isolated, gentle dissociation of neuronal cells is achieved with a dilute concentration of trypsin and mechanical disruption designed to separate cells from connective tissue while providing minimum damage to individual cells. A detailed description of how to prepare pipettes to be used in the disruption is included. Optimal plating densities are provided for immuno-fluorescence protocols to maximize successful cell culture. The protocol provides a fast (approximately 2 hr) and efficient technique for the culture of neuronal cells from mouse hippocampal tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Physiology, Medicine, Brain, Cell Culture, Hippocampal Neurons
A Standardized Obstacle Course for Assessment of Visual Function in Ultra Low Vision and Artificial Vision
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh.
We describe an indoor, portable, standardized course that can be used to evaluate obstacle avoidance in persons who have ultralow vision. Six sighted controls and 36 completely blind but otherwise healthy adult male (n=29) and female (n=13) subjects (age range 19-85 years), were enrolled in one of three studies involving testing of the BrainPort sensory substitution device. Subjects were asked to navigate the course prior to, and after, BrainPort training. They completed a total of 837 course runs in two different locations. Means and standard deviations were calculated across control types, courses, lights, and visits. We used a linear mixed effects model to compare different categories in the PPWS (percent preferred walking speed) and error percent data to show that the course iterations were properly designed. The course is relatively inexpensive, simple to administer, and has been shown to be a feasible way to test mobility function. Data analysis demonstrates that for the outcome of percent error as well as for percentage preferred walking speed, that each of the three courses is different, and that within each level, each of the three iterations are equal. This allows for randomization of the courses during administration.
preferred walking speed (PWS)
course speed (CS)
percentage preferred walking speed (PPWS)
Medicine, Issue 84, Obstacle course, navigation assessment, BrainPort, wayfinding, low vision
Plasma Lithography Surface Patterning for Creation of Cell Networks
Institutions: University of Arizona , University of Arizona .
Systematic manipulation of a cell microenvironment with micro- and nanoscale resolution is often required for deciphering various cellular and molecular phenomena. To address this requirement, we have developed a plasma lithography technique to manipulate the cellular microenvironment by creating a patterned surface with feature sizes ranging from 100 nm to millimeters. The goal of this technique is to be able to study, in a controlled way, the behaviors of individual cells as well as groups of cells and their interactions.
This plasma lithography method is based on selective modification of the surface chemistry on a substrate by means of shielding the contact of low-temperature plasma with a physical mold. This selective shielding leaves a chemical pattern which can guide cell attachment and movement. This pattern, or surface template, can then be used to create networks of cells whose structure can mimic that found in nature and produces a controllable environment for experimental investigations. The technique is well suited to studying biological phenomenon as it produces stable surface patterns on transparent polymeric substrates in a biocompatible manner. The surface patterns last for weeks to months and can thus guide interaction with cells for long time periods which facilitates the study of long-term cellular processes, such as differentiation and adaption. The modification to the surface is primarily chemical in nature and thus does not introduce topographical or physical interference for interpretation of results. It also does not involve any harsh or toxic substances to achieve patterning and is compatible for tissue culture. Furthermore, it can be applied to modify various types of polymeric substrates, which due to the ability to tune their properties are ideal for and are widely used in biological applications. The resolution achievable is also beneficial, as isolation of specific processes such as migration, adhesion, or binding allows for discrete, clear observations at the single to multicell level.
This method has been employed to form diverse networks of different cell types for investigations involving migration, signaling, tissue formation, and the behavior and interactions of neurons arraigned in a network.
Bioengineering, Issue 52, Cell Network, Surface Patterning, Self-Organization, Developmental Biology, Tissue Engineering, Nanopattern, Micropattern, Self-Assembly, Cell Guidance, Neuron
Methods for the Modulation and Analysis of NF-κB-dependent Adult Neurogenesis
Institutions: University of Bielefeld, University of Bielefeld.
The hippocampus plays a pivotal role in the formation and consolidation of episodic memories, and in spatial orientation. Historically, the adult hippocampus has been viewed as a very static anatomical region of the mammalian brain. However, recent findings have demonstrated that the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is an area of tremendous plasticity in adults, involving not only modifications of existing neuronal circuits, but also adult neurogenesis. This plasticity is regulated by complex transcriptional networks, in which the transcription factor NF-κB plays a prominent role. To study and manipulate adult neurogenesis, a transgenic mouse model for forebrain-specific neuronal inhibition of NF-κB activity can be used.
In this study, methods are described for the analysis of NF-κB-dependent neurogenesis, including its structural aspects, neuronal apoptosis and progenitor proliferation, and cognitive significance, which was specifically assessed via a dentate gyrus (DG)-dependent behavioral test, the spatial pattern separation-Barnes maze (SPS-BM). The SPS-BM protocol could be simply adapted for use with other transgenic animal models designed to assess the influence of particular genes on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Furthermore, SPS-BM could be used in other experimental settings aimed at investigating and manipulating DG-dependent learning, for example, using pharmacological agents.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, NF-κB, hippocampus, Adult neurogenesis, spatial pattern separation-Barnes maze, dentate gyrus, p65 knock-out mice
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
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
Neural Explant Cultures from Xenopus laevis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
The complex process of axon guidance is largely driven by the growth cone, which is the dynamic motile structure at the tip of the growing axon. During axon outgrowth, the growth cone must integrate multiple sources of guidance cue information to modulate its cytoskeleton in order to propel the growth cone forward and accurately navigate to find its specific targets1
. How this integration occurs at the cytoskeletal level is still emerging, and examination of cytoskeletal protein and effector dynamics within the growth cone can allow the elucidation of these mechanisms. Xenopus laevis
growth cones are large enough (10-30 microns in diameter) to perform high-resolution live imaging of cytoskeletal dynamics (e.g.2-4
) and are easy to isolate and manipulate in a lab setting compared to other vertebrates. The frog is a classic model system for developmental neurobiology studies, and important early insights into growth cone microtubule dynamics were initially found using this system5-7
. In this method8
, eggs are collected and fertilized in vitro
, injected with RNA encoding fluorescently tagged cytoskeletal fusion proteins or other constructs to manipulate gene expression, and then allowed to develop to the neural tube stage. Neural tubes are isolated by dissection and then are cultured, and growth cones on outgrowing neurites are imaged. In this article, we describe how to perform this method, the goal of which is to culture Xenopus laevis
growth cones for subsequent high-resolution image analysis. While we provide the example of +TIP fusion protein EB1-GFP, this method can be applied to any number of proteins to elucidate their behaviors within the growth cone.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Growth cone, neural explant, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging, cytoskeletal dynamics, cell culture
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Fabricating Complex Culture Substrates Using Robotic Microcontact Printing (R-µCP) and Sequential Nucleophilic Substitution
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, Madison, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In tissue engineering, it is desirable to exhibit spatial control of tissue morphology and cell fate in culture on the micron scale. Culture substrates presenting grafted poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) brushes can be used to achieve this task by creating microscale, non-fouling and cell adhesion resistant regions as well as regions where cells participate in biospecific interactions with covalently tethered ligands. To engineer complex tissues using such substrates, it will be necessary to sequentially pattern multiple PEG brushes functionalized to confer differential bioactivities and aligned in microscale orientations that mimic in vivo
niches. Microcontact printing (μCP) is a versatile technique to pattern such grafted PEG brushes, but manual μCP cannot be performed with microscale precision. Thus, we combined advanced robotics with soft-lithography techniques and emerging surface chemistry reactions to develop a robotic microcontact printing (R-μCP)-assisted method for fabricating culture substrates with complex, microscale, and highly ordered patterns of PEG brushes presenting orthogonal ‘click’ chemistries. Here, we describe in detail the workflow to manufacture such substrates.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, Robotic microcontact printing, R-μCP, click chemistry, surface chemistry, tissue engineering, micropattern, advanced manufacturing
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
Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6
. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7
. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant.
Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10
. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12
. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10
Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
Microcontact Printing of Proteins for Cell Biology
Institutions: Columbia University.
The ability to pattern proteins and other biomolecules onto substrates is important for capturing the spatial complexity of the extracellular environment. Development of microcontact printing by the Whitesides group (http://gmwgroup.harvard.edu/) in the mid-1990s revolutionalized this field by making microelectronics/microfabrication techniques accessible to laboratories focused on the life sciences. Initial implementations of this method used polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) stamps to create patterns of functionalized chemicals on material surfaces1
. Since then, a range of innovative approaches have been developed to pattern other molecules, including proteins2
. This video demonstrates the basic process of creating PDMS stamps and uses them to pattern proteins, as these steps are difficult to accurately express in words. We focus on patterning the extracellular matrix protein fibronectin onto glass coverslips as a specific example of patterning.
An important component of the microcontact printing process is a topological master, from which the stamps are cast; the raised and lowered regions of the master are mirrored into the stamp and define the final pattern. Typically, a master consists of a silicon wafer coated with photoresist and then patterned by photolithography, as is done here. Creation of masters containing a specific pattern requires specialized equipment, and is best approached in consultation with a fabrication center or facility. However, almost any substrate with topology can be used as a master, such as plastic diffraction gratings (see Reagents for one example), and such serendipitous masters provide readily available, simple patterns. This protocol begins at the point of having a master in hand.
Cellular Biology, Issue 22, micropatterning, proteins, cell biology, microcontact
Neuronal Cell Cultures from Aplysia for High-Resolution Imaging of Growth Cones
Institutions: Purdue University.
Neuronal growth cones are the highly motile structures at the tip of axons that can detect guidance cues in the environment and transduce this information into directional movement towards the appropriate target cell. To fully understand how guidance information is transmitted from the cell surface to the underlying dynamic cytoskeletal networks, one needs a model system suitable for live cell imaging of protein dynamics at high temporal and spatial resolution. Typical vertebrate growth cones are too small to quantitatively analyze F-actin and microtubule dynamics. Neurons from the sea hare Aplysia californica are 5-10 times larger than vertebrate neurons, can easily be kept at room temperature and are very robust cells for micromanipulation and biophysical measurements. Their growth cones have very defined cytoplasmic regions and a well-described cytoskeletal system. The neuronal cell bodies can be microinjected with a variety of probes for studying growth cone motility and guidance. In the present protocol we demonstrate a procedure for dissection of the abdominal ganglion, culture of bag cell neurons and setting up an imaging chamber for live cell imaging of growth cones.
Neuroscience, Issue 12, Aplysia californica, abdominal ganglion, nervous system, bag cell neuron, neuronal growth cone, neuronal cell culture, live cell imaging, cytoskeletal dynamics, growth cone motility and guidance