In this paper we describe the tools, reagents, and the practical steps that are needed for: 1) successful preparation of wholemount retinas for immunohistochemistry and, 2) calcium imaging for the study of voltage gated calcium channel (VGCC) mediated calcium signaling in retinal ganglion cells. The calcium imaging method we describe circumvents issues concerning non-specific loading of displaced amacrine cells in the ganglion cell layer.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Morphometric Analyses of Retinal Sections
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong.
Morphometric analyses of retinal sections have been used in examining retinal diseases. For examples, neuronal cells were significantly lost in the retinal ganglion cell layer (RGCL) in rat models with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)–induced excitotoxicity1
, retinal ischemia-reperfusion injury2
. Reduction of INL and inner plexiform layer (IPL) thicknesses were reversed with citicoline treatment in rats' eyes subjected to kainic acid-mediated glutamate excitotoxicity4
. Alteration of RGC density and soma sizes were observed with different drug treatments in eyes with elevated intraocular pressure3,5,6
. Therefore, having objective methods of analyzing the retinal morphometries may be of great significance in evaluating retinal pathologies and the effectiveness of therapeutic strategies.
The retinal structure is multi-layers and several different kinds of neurons exist in the retina. The morphometric parameters of retina such as cell number, cell size and thickness of different layers are more complex than the cell culture system. Early on, these parameters can be detected using other commercial imaging software. The values are normally of relative value, and changing to the precise value may need further accurate calculation. Also, the tracing of the cell size and morphology may not be accurate and sensitive enough for statistic analysis, especially in the chronic glaucoma model. The measurements used in this protocol provided a more precise and easy way. And the absolute length of the line and size of the cell can be reported directly and easy to be copied to other files. For example, we traced the margin of the inner and outer most nuclei in the INL and formed a line then using the software to draw a 90 degree angle to measure the thickness. While without the help of the software, the line maybe oblique and the changing of retinal thickness may not be repeatable among individual observers. In addition, the number and density of RGCs can also be quantified. This protocol successfully decreases the variability in quantitating features of the retina, increases the sensitivity in detecting minimal changes.
This video will demonstrate three types of morphometric analyses of the retinal sections. They include measuring the INL thickness, quantifying the number of RGCs and measuring the sizes of RGCs in absolute value. These three analyses are carried out with Stereo Investigator (MBF Bioscience — MicroBrightField, Inc.). The technique can offer a simple but scientific platform for morphometric analyses.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, morphometric analysis, retina, thickness, cell size, Stereo Investigator, neuroscience
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells in Adult Zebrafish with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University of Science and Technology of China.
As retrograde labeling retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) can isolate RGCs somata from dying sites, it has become the gold standard for counting RGCs in RGCs survival and regeneration experiments. Many studies have been performed in mammalian animals to research RGCs survival after optic nerve injury. However, retrograde labeling of RGCs in adult zebrafish has not yet been reported, though some alternative methods can count cell numbers in retinal ganglion cell layers (RGCL). Considering the small size of the adult zebrafish skull and the high risk of death after drilling on the skull, we open the skull with the help of acid-etching and seal the hole with a light curing bond, which could significantly improve the survival rate. After absorbing the dyes for 5 days, almost all the RGCs are labeled. As this method does not need to transect the optic nerve, it is irreplaceable in the research of RGCs survival after optic nerve crush in adult zebrafish. Here, we introduce this method step by step and provide representative results.
Neuroscience, Issue 87,
Adult Zebrafish, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retrograde Labeling, DiI
Methods for Experimental Manipulations after Optic Nerve Transection in the Mammalian CNS
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve. The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Viral vectors, plasmids or short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) can also be delivered to the vitreous chamber in order to infect or transfect retinal cells 5-12
. The high tropism of Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) vectors is beneficial to target RGCs, with an infection rate approaching 90% of cells near the injection site 6, 7, 13-15
. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying siRNAs, plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 16-19
or injecting vectors into their target the superior colliculus 10
. This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the injured neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia. RGC apoptosis has a characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a window for experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis. Manipulations that directly target RGCs from the transected optic nerve stump are performed at the time of axotomy, immediately after cutting the nerve. In contrast, when substances are delivered via an intraocular route, they can be injected prior to surgery or within the first 3 days after surgery, preceding the initiation of apoptosis in axotomized RGCs. In the present article, we demonstrate several methods for experimental manipulations after optic nerve transection.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Intraocular Injection, Nerve Stump Transfection, Viral Vector, Short Interfering RNA
Dissection, Culture, and Analysis of Xenopus laevis Embryonic Retinal Tissue
Institutions: College of William and Mary.
The process by which the anterior region of the neural plate gives rise to the vertebrate retina continues to be a major focus of both clinical and basic research. In addition to the obvious medical relevance for understanding and treating retinal disease, the development of the vertebrate retina continues to serve as an important and elegant model system for understanding neuronal cell type determination and differentiation1-16
. The neural retina consists of six discrete cell types (ganglion, amacrine, horizontal, photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and Müller glial cells) arranged in stereotypical layers, a pattern that is largely conserved among all vertebrates 12,14-18
While studying the retina in the intact developing embryo is clearly required for understanding how this complex organ develops from a protrusion of the forebrain into a layered structure, there are many questions that benefit from employing approaches using primary cell culture of presumptive retinal cells 7,19-23
. For example, analyzing cells from tissues removed and dissociated at different stages allows one to discern the state of specification of individual cells at different developmental stages, that is, the fate of the cells in the absence of interactions with neighboring tissues 8,19-22,24-33
. Primary cell culture also allows the investigator to treat the culture with specific reagents and analyze the results on a single cell level 5,8,21,24,27-30,33-39
. Xenopus laevis,
a classic model system for the study of early neural development 19,27,29,31-32,40-42
, serves as a particularly suitable system for retinal primary cell culture 10,38,43-45
Presumptive retinal tissue is accessible from the earliest stages of development, immediately following neural induction 25,38,43
. In addition, given that each cell in the embryo contains a supply of yolk, retinal cells can be cultured in a very simple defined media consisting of a buffered salt solution, thus removing the confounding effects of incubation or other sera-based products 10,24,44-45
However, the isolation of the retinal tissue from surrounding tissues and the subsequent processing is challenging. Here, we present a method for the dissection and dissociation of retinal cells in Xenopus laevis
that will be used to prepare primary cell cultures that will, in turn, be analyzed for calcium activity and gene expression at the resolution of single cells. While the topic presented in this paper is the analysis of spontaneous calcium transients, the technique is broadly applicable to a wide array of research questions and approaches (Figure 1
Developmental Biology, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Surgery, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, retina, primary cell culture, dissection, confocal microscopy, calcium imaging, fluorescent in situ hybridization, FISH, Xenopus laevis, animal model
Implementing Dynamic Clamp with Synaptic and Artificial Conductances in Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney , University of Western Sydney, University of Sydney .
Ganglion cells are the output neurons of the retina and their activity reflects the integration of multiple synaptic inputs arising from specific neural circuits. Patch clamp techniques, in voltage clamp and current clamp configurations, are commonly used to study the physiological properties of neurons and to characterize their synaptic inputs. Although the application of these techniques is highly informative, they pose various limitations. For example, it is difficult to quantify how the precise interactions of excitatory and inhibitory inputs determine response output. To address this issue, we used a modified current clamp technique, dynamic clamp, also called conductance clamp 1, 2, 3
and examined the impact of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs on neuronal excitability. This technique requires the injection of current into the cell and is dependent on the real-time feedback of its membrane potential at that time. The injected current is calculated from predetermined excitatory and inhibitory synaptic conductances, their reversal potentials and the cell's instantaneous membrane potential. Details on the experimental procedures, patch clamping cells to achieve a whole-cell configuration and employment of the dynamic clamp technique are illustrated in this video article. Here, we show the responses of mouse retinal ganglion cells to various conductance waveforms obtained from physiological experiments in control conditions or in the presence of drugs. Furthermore, we show the use of artificial excitatory and inhibitory conductances generated using alpha functions to investigate the responses of the cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Neurons, Retinal Neurons, Retinal Ganglion Cells, Eye, Retina, Neurosciences, retina, ganglion cells, synaptic conductance, artificial conductance, tetrodotoxin (TTX), patch clamp, dynamic clamp, conductance clamp, electrophysiology, mouse, animal model
Efficient Gene Delivery into Multiple CNS Territories Using In Utero Electroporation
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
The ability to manipulate gene expression is the cornerstone of modern day experimental embryology, leading to the elucidation of multiple developmental pathways. Several powerful and well established transgenic technologies are available to manipulate gene expression levels in mouse, allowing for the generation of both loss- and gain-of-function models. However, the generation of mouse transgenics is both costly and time consuming. Alternative methods of gene manipulation have therefore been widely sought. In utero
electroporation is a method of gene delivery into live mouse embryos1,2
that we have successfully adapted3,4
. It is largely based on the success of in ovo
electroporation technologies that are commonly used in chick5
. Briefly, DNA is injected into the open ventricles of the developing brain and the application of an electrical current causes the formation of transient pores in cell membranes, allowing for the uptake of DNA into the cell. In our hands, embryos can be efficiently electroporated as early as embryonic day (E) 11.5, while the targeting of younger embryos would require an ultrasound-guided microinjection protocol, as previously described6
. Conversely, E15.5 is the latest stage we can easily electroporate, due to the onset of parietal and frontal bone differentiation, which hampers microinjection into the brain. In contrast, the retina is accessible through the end of embryogenesis. Embryos can be collected at any time point throughout the embryonic or early postnatal period. Injection of a reporter construct facilitates the identification of transfected cells.
To date, in utero electroporation has been most widely used for the analysis of neocortical development1,2,3,4
. More recent studies have targeted the embryonic retina7,8,9
. Here, we present a modified in utero
electroporation protocol that can be easily adapted to target different domains of the embryonic CNS. We provide evidence that by using this technique, we can target the embryonic telencephalon, diencephalon and retina. Representative results are presented, first showing the use of this technique to introduce DNA expression constructs into the lateral ventricles, allowing us to monitor progenitor maturation, differentiation and migration in the embryonic telencephalon. We also show that this technique can be used to target DNA to the diencephalic territories surrounding the 3rd
ventricle, allowing the migratory routes of differentiating neurons into diencephalic nuclei to be monitored. Finally, we show that the use of micromanipulators allows us to accurately introduce DNA constructs into small target areas, including the subretinal space, allowing us to analyse the effects of manipulating gene expression on retinal development.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, In utero electroporation, embryonic central nervous system, telencephalon, diencephalon, retina, gene delivery, mouse, gain-of-function, loss-of-function
Techniques for Processing Eyes Implanted With a Retinal Prosthesis for Localized Histopathological Analysis
Institutions: Bionics Institute, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne.
With the recent development of retinal prostheses, it is important to develop reliable techniques for assessing the safety of these devices in preclinical studies. However, the standard fixation, preparation, and automated histology procedures are not ideal. Here we describe new procedures for evaluating the health of the retina directly adjacent to an implant. Retinal prostheses feature electrode arrays in contact with eye tissue. Previous methods have not been able to spatially localize the ocular tissue adjacent to individual electrodes within the array. In addition, standard histological processing often results in gross artifactual detachment of the retinal layers when assessing implanted eyes. Consequently, it has been difficult to assess localized damage, if present, caused by implantation and stimulation of an implanted electrode array. Therefore, we developed a method for identifying and localizing the ocular tissue adjacent to implanted electrodes using a (color-coded) dye marking scheme, and we modified an eye fixation technique to minimize artifactual retinal detachment. This method also rendered the sclera translucent, enabling localization of individual electrodes and specific parts of an implant. Finally, we used a matched control to increase the power of the histopathological assessments. In summary, this method enables reliable and efficient discrimination and assessment of the retinal cytoarchitecture in an implanted eye.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Surgery, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Tissue Engineering, Prosthesis Implantation, Implantable Neurostimulators, Implants, Experimental, Histology, bionics, Retina, Prosthesis, Bionic Eye, Retinal, Implant, Suprachoroidal, Fixation, Localization, Safety, Preclinical, dissection, embedding, staining, tissue, surgical techniques, clinical techniques
Dissection and Immunostaining of Imaginal Discs from Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: Indiana University.
A significant portion of post-embryonic development in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster
, takes place within a set of sac-like structures called imaginal discs. These discs give rise to a high percentage of adult structures that are found within the adult fly. Here we describe a protocol that has been optimized to recover these discs and prepare them for analysis with antibodies, transcriptional reporters and protein traps. This procedure is best suited for thin tissues like imaginal discs, but can be easily modified for use with thicker tissues such as the larval brain and adult ovary. The written protocol and accompanying video will guide the reader/viewer through the dissection of third instar larvae, fixation of tissue, and treatment of imaginal discs with antibodies. The protocol can be used to dissect imaginal discs from younger first and second instar larvae as well. The advantage of this protocol is that it is relatively short and it has been optimized for the high quality preservation of the dissected tissue. Another advantage is that the fixation procedure that is employed works well with the overwhelming number of antibodies that recognize Drosophila
proteins. In our experience, there is a very small number of sensitive antibodies that do not work well with this procedure. In these situations, the remedy appears to be to use an alternate fixation cocktail while continuing to follow the guidelines that we have set forth for the dissection steps and antibody incubations.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, Drosophila, imaginal discs, eye, retina, dissection, developmental biology
Fundus Photography as a Convenient Tool to Study Microvascular Responses to Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Epidemiological Studies
Institutions: Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Hasselt University, Hasselt University, Leuven University.
The microcirculation consists of blood vessels with diameters less than 150 µm. It makes up a large part of the circulatory system and plays an important role in maintaining cardiovascular health. The retina is a tissue that lines the interior of the eye and it is the only tissue that allows for a non-invasive analysis of the microvasculature. Nowadays, high-quality fundus images can be acquired using digital cameras. Retinal images can be collected in 5 min or less, even without dilatation of the pupils. This unobtrusive and fast procedure for visualizing the microcirculation is attractive to apply in epidemiological studies and to monitor cardiovascular health from early age up to old age.
Systemic diseases that affect the circulation can result in progressive morphological changes in the retinal vasculature. For example, changes in the vessel calibers of retinal arteries and veins have been associated with hypertension, atherosclerosis, and increased risk of stroke and myocardial infarction. The vessel widths are derived using image analysis software and the width of the six largest arteries and veins are summarized in the Central Retinal Arteriolar Equivalent (CRAE) and the Central Retinal Venular Equivalent (CRVE). The latter features have been shown useful to study the impact of modifiable lifestyle and environmental cardiovascular disease risk factors.
The procedures to acquire fundus images and the analysis steps to obtain CRAE and CRVE are described. Coefficients of variation of repeated measures of CRAE and CRVE are less than 2% and within-rater reliability is very high. Using a panel study, the rapid response of the retinal vessel calibers to short-term changes in particulate air pollution, a known risk factor for cardiovascular mortality and morbidity, is reported. In conclusion, retinal imaging is proposed as a convenient and instrumental tool for epidemiological studies to study microvascular responses to cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Medicine, Issue 92, retina, microvasculature, image analysis, Central Retinal Arteriolar Equivalent, Central Retinal Venular Equivalent, air pollution, particulate matter, black carbon
An Optic Nerve Crush Injury Murine Model to Study Retinal Ganglion Cell Survival
Institutions: NIH, The Second Hospital of Harbin Medical University.
Injury to the optic nerve can lead to axonal degeneration, followed by a gradual death of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which results in irreversible vision loss. Examples of such diseases in human include traumatic optic neuropathy and optic nerve degeneration in glaucoma. It is characterized by typical changes in the optic nerve head, progressive optic nerve degeneration, and loss of retinal ganglion cells, if uncontrolled, leading to vision loss and blindness.
The optic nerve crush (ONC) injury mouse model is an important experimental disease model for traumatic optic neuropathy, glaucoma, etc. In this model, the crush injury to the optic nerve leads to gradual retinal ganglion cells apoptosis. This disease model can be used to study the general processes and mechanisms of neuronal death and survival, which is essential for the development of therapeutic measures. In addition, pharmacological and molecular approaches can be used in this model to identify and test potential therapeutic reagents to treat different types of optic neuropathy.
Here, we provide a step by step demonstration of (I) Baseline retrograde labeling of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) at day 1, (II) Optic nerve crush injury at day 4, (III) Harvest the retinae and analyze RGC survival at day 11, and (IV) Representative result.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, optic nerve crush injury, retinal ganglion cell, glaucoma, optic neuropathy, retrograde labeling
The Specification of Telencephalic Glutamatergic Neurons from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells
Institutions: The University of Connecticut Health Center, The University of Connecticut Health Center, The University of Connecticut Health Center.
Here, a stepwise procedure for efficiently generating telencephalic glutamatergic neurons from human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) has been described. The differentiation process is initiated by breaking the human PSCs into clumps which round up to form aggregates when the cells are placed in a suspension culture. The aggregates are then grown in hESC medium from days 1-4 to allow for spontaneous differentiation. During this time, the cells have the capacity to become any of the three germ layers. From days 5-8, the cells are placed in a neural induction medium to push them into the neural lineage. Around day 8, the cells are allowed to attach onto 6 well plates and differentiate during which time the neuroepithelial cells form. These neuroepithelial cells can be isolated at day 17. The cells can then be kept as neurospheres until they are ready to be plated onto coverslips. Using a basic medium without any caudalizing factors, neuroepithelial cells are specified into telencephalic precursors, which can then be further differentiated into dorsal telencephalic progenitors and glutamatergic neurons efficiently. Overall, our system provides a tool to generate human glutamatergic neurons for researchers to study the development of these neurons and the diseases which affect them.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 74, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Stem Cells, Embryonic Stem Cells, ESCs, Pluripotent Stem Cells, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, iPSC, neural differentiation, forebrain, glutamatergic neuron, neural patterning, development, neurons
Transfection of Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells by in vivo Electroporation
Institutions: Yale University, Baylor College of Medicine.
The targeting and refinement of RGC projections to the midbrain is a popular and powerful model system for studying how precise patterns of neural connectivity form during development. In mice, retinofugal projections are arranged in a topographic manner and form eye-specific layers in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus (dLGN) of the thalamus and the Superior Colliculus (SC). The development of these precise patterns of retinofugal projections has typically been studied by labeling populations of RGCs with fluorescent dyes and tracers, such as horseradish peroxidase1-4
. However, these methods are too coarse to provide insight into developmental changes in individual RGC axonal arbor morphology that are the basis of retinotopic map formation. They also do not allow for the genetic manipulation of RGCs.
Recently, electroporation has become an effective method for providing precise spatial and temporal control for delivery of charged molecules into the retina5-11
. Current retinal electroporation protocols do not allow for genetic manipulation and tracing of retinofugal projections of a single or small cluster of RGCs in postnatal mice. It has been argued that postnatal in vivo
electroporation is not a viable method for transfecting RGCs since the labeling efficiency is extremely low and hence requires targeting at embryonic ages when RGC progenitors are undergoing differentiation and proliferation6
In this video we describe an in vivo
electroporation protocol for targeted delivery of genes, shRNA, and fluorescent dextrans to murine RGCs postnatally. This technique provides a cost effective, fast and relatively easy platform for efficient screening of candidate genes involved in several aspects of neural development including axon retraction, branching, lamination, regeneration and synapse formation at various stages of circuit development. In summary we describe here a valuable tool which will provide further insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying sensory map development.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Retinotopy, Eye Segregation, Superior Colliculus, Lateral Geniculate Nucleus, Visual Development, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retina, Electroporation
In utero and ex vivo Electroporation for Gene Expression in Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The retina and its sole output neuron, the retinal ganglion cell (RGC), comprise an excellent model in which to examine biological questions such as cell differentiation, axon guidance, retinotopic organization and synapse formation. One drawback is the inability to efficiently and reliably manipulate gene expression in RGCs in vivo
, especially in the otherwise accessible murine visual pathways. Transgenic mice can be used to manipulate gene expression, but this approach is often expensive, time consuming, and can produce unwanted side effects. In chick, in ovo electroporation is used to manipulate gene expression in RGCs for examining retina and RGC development. Although similar electroporation techniques have been developed in neonatal mouse pups, adult rats, and embryonic murine retinae in vitro
, none of these strategies allow full characterization of RGC development and axon projections in vivo
. To this end, we have developed two applications of electroporation, one in utero
and the other ex vivo
, to specifically target embryonic murine RGCs[5, 6].
With in utero
retinal electroporation, we can misexpress or downregulate specific genes in RGCs and follow their axon projections through the visual pathways in vivo
, allowing examination of guidance decisions at intermediate targets, such as the optic chiasm, or at target regions, such as the lateral geniculate nucleus. Perturbing gene expression in a subset of RGCs in an otherwise wild-type background facilitates an understanding of gene function throughout the retinal pathway. Additionally, we have developed a companion technique for analyzing RGC axon growth in vitro
. We electroporate embryonic heads ex vivo, collect and incubate the whole retina, then prepare explants from these retinae several days later. Retinal explants can be used in a variety of in vitro assays in order to examine the response of electroporated RGC axons to guidance cues or other factors. In sum, this set of techniques enhances our ability to misexpress or downregulate genes in RGCs and should greatly aid studies examining RGC development and axon projections.
Neuroscience, Developmental Biology, Issue 31, retinal ganglion cells, electroporation, retinal explants, gene transfection, border assays, in utero, ex vivo
An Isolated Retinal Preparation to Record Light Response from Genetically Labeled Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The first steps in vertebrate vision take place when light stimulates the rod and cone photoreceptors of the retina 1
. This information is then segregated into what are known as the ON and OFF pathways. The photoreceptors signal light information to the bipolar cells (BCs), which depolarize in response to increases (On BCs) or decreases (Off BCs) in light intensity. This segregation of light information is maintained at the level of the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which have dendrites stratifying in either the Off sublamina of the inner plexiform layer (IPL), where they receive direct excitatory input from Off BCs, or stratifying in the On sublamina of the IPL, where they receive direct excitatory input from On BCs. This segregation of information regarding increases or decreases in illumination (the On and Off pathways) is conserved and signaled to the brain in parallel.
The RGCs are the output cells of the retina, and are thus an important cell to study in order to understand how light information is signaled to visual nuclei in the brain. Advances in mouse genetics over recent decades have resulted in a variety of fluorescent reporter mouse lines where specific RGC populations are labeled with a fluorescent protein to allow for identification of RGC subtypes 2 3 4
and specific targeting for electrophysiological recording. Here, we present a method for recording light responses from fluorescently labeled ganglion cells in an intact, isolated retinal preparation. This isolated retinal preparation allows for recordings from RGCs where the dendritic arbor is intact and the inputs across the entire RGC dendritic arbor are preserved. This method is applicable across a variety of ganglion cell subtypes and is amenable to a wide variety of single-cell physiological techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, isolated, retina, ganglion cell, electrophysiology, patch clamp, transgenic, mouse, fluorescent
Optic Nerve Transection: A Model of Adult Neuron Apoptosis in the Central Nervous System
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve.
The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve
transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous
chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals
through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying short interfering RNAs
(siRNAs), plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 5-7
or injecting vectors into their target, the superior colliculus 8
This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the desired neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia.
An additional benefit is the ease and accuracy with which cell survival can be quantified after injury. The retina is a flat, layered tissue and RGCs are localized in
the innermost layer, the ganglion cell layer. The survival of RGCs can be tracked over time by applying a fluorescent tracer (3% Fluorogold) to the cut end of the
optic nerve at the time of axotomy, or by injecting the tracer into the superior colliculus (RGC target) one week prior to axotomy. The tracer is retrogradely transported, labeling
the entire RGC population. Because the ganglion cell layer is a monolayer (one cell thick), RGC densities can be quantified in flat-mounted tissue, without the need
for stereology. Optic nerve transection leads to the apoptotic death of 90% of injured RGCs within 14 days postaxotomy 9-11
. RGC apoptosis has a
characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a time window for
experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis.
Neuroscience, issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retina, Apoptosis, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Rat, Retrograde Labeling, Rat Model
Single-cell Profiling of Developing and Mature Retinal Neurons
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Highly specialized, but exceedingly small populations of cells play important roles in many tissues. The identification of cell-type specific markers and gene expression programs for extremely rare cell subsets has been a challenge using standard whole-tissue approaches. Gene expression profiling of individual cells allows for unprecedented access to cell types that comprise only a small percentage of the total tissue1-7
. In addition, this technique can be used to examine the gene expression programs that are transiently expressed in small numbers of cells during dynamic developmental transitions8
This issue of cellular diversity arises repeatedly in the central nervous system (CNS) where neuronal connections can occur between quite diverse cells9
. The exact number of distinct cell types is not precisely known, but it has been estimated that there may be as many as 1000 different types in the cortex itself10
. The function(s) of complex neural circuits may rely on some of the rare neuronal types and the genes they express. By identifying new markers and helping to molecularly classify different neurons, the single-cell approach is particularly useful in the analysis of cell types in the nervous system. It may also help to elucidate mechanisms of neural development by identifying differentially expressed genes and gene pathways during early stages of neuronal progenitor development.
As a simple, easily accessed tissue with considerable neuronal diversity, the vertebrate retina is an excellent model system for studying the processes of cellular development, neuronal differentiation and neuronal diversification. However, as in other parts of the CNS, this cellular diversity can present a problem for determining the genetic pathways that drive retinal progenitors to adopt a specific cell fate, especially given that rod photoreceptors make up the majority of the total retinal cell population11
. Here we report a method for the identification of the transcripts expressed in single retinal cells (Figure 1
). The single-cell profiling technique allows for the assessment of the amount of heterogeneity present within different cellular populations of the retina2,4,5,12
. In addition, this method has revealed a host of new candidate genes that may play role(s) in the cell fate decision-making processes that occur in subsets of retinal progenitor cells8
. With some simple adjustments to the protocol, this technique can be utilized for many different tissues and cell types.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Single-cells, transcriptomics, gene expression, cell-type markers, retina, neurons, genetics
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
Viral Tracing of Genetically Defined Neural Circuitry
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Harvard Medical School.
Classical methods for studying neuronal circuits are fairly low throughput. Transsynaptic viruses, particularly the pseudorabies (PRV) and rabies virus (RABV), and more recently vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), for studying circuitry, is becoming increasingly popular. These higher throughput methods use viruses that transmit between neurons in either the anterograde or retrograde direction.
Recently, a modified RABV for monosynaptic retrograde tracing was developed. (Figure 1A
). In this method, the glycoprotein (G) gene is deleted from the viral genome, and resupplied only in targeted neurons. Infection specificity is achieved by substituting a chimeric G, composed of the extracellular domain of the ASLV-A glycoprotein and the cytoplasmic domain of the RABV-G (A/RG), for the normal RABV-G1
. This chimeric G specifically infects cells expressing the TVA receptor1
. The gene encoding TVA can been delivered by various methods2-8
. Following RABV-G infection of a TVA-expressing neuron, the RABV can transmit to other, synaptically connected neurons in a retrograde direction by nature of its own G which was co-delivered with the TVA receptor. This technique labels a relatively large number of inputs (5-10%)2
onto a defined cell type, providing a sampling of all of the inputs onto a defined starter cell type.
We recently modified this technique to use VSV as a transsynaptic tracer9
. VSV has several advantages, including the rapidity of gene expression. Here we detail a new viral tracing system using VSV useful for probing microcircuitry with increased resolution. While the original published strategies by Wickersham et al.4
and Beier et al.9
permit labeling of any neurons that project onto initially-infected TVA-expressing-cells, here VSV was engineered to transmit
only to TVA-expressing cells (Figure 1B
). The virus is first pseudotyped with RABV-G to permit infection of neurons downstream of TVA-expressing neurons. After infecting this first population of cells, the virus released can only infect TVA-expressing cells. Because the transsynaptic viral spread is limited to TVA-expressing cells, presence of absence of connectivity from defined cell types can be explored with high resolution. An experimental flow chart of these experiments is shown in Figure 2
. Here we show a model circuit, that of direction-selectivity in the mouse retina. We examine the connectivity of starburst amacrine cells (SACs) to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs).
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Virology, Virus, VSV, transsynaptic tracing, TVA, retrograde, neuron, synapse
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, email@example.com) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells by Application of Fluoro-Gold on the Surface of Superior Colliculus
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong - HKU.
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) counting is essential to evaluate retinal degeneration especially in glaucoma. Reliable RGC labeling is fundamental for evaluating the effects of any treatment. In rat, about 98% of RGCs is known to project to the contralateral superior colliculus (SC) (Forrester and Peters, 1967). Applying fluoro-gold (FG) on the surface of SC can label almost all the RGCs, so that we can focus on this most vulnerable retinal neuron in glaucoma. FG is taken up by the axon terminals of retinal ganglion cells and bilaterally transported retrogradely to its somas in the retina. Compare with retrograde labeling of RGC by putting FG at stump of transected optic nerve for 2 days, the interference of RGC survival is minimized. Compare with cresyl violet staining that stains RGCs, amacrine cells and endothelium of the blood vessel in the retinal ganglion cell layer, this labeling method is more specific to the RGC. This video describes the method of retrograde labeling of RGC by applying FG on the surface of SC. The surgical procedures include drilling the skull; aspirating the cortex to expose the SC and applying gelatin sponge over entire dorsal surface of SC are shown. Useful tips for avoiding massive intracranial bleeding and aspiration of the SC have been given.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, Retrograde labeling, retinal ganglion cells, ophthalmology research, superior colliculus, experimental glaucoma