Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Visualizing the Effects of a Positive Early Experience, Tactile Stimulation, on Dendritic Morphology and Synaptic Connectivity with Golgi-Cox Staining
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
To generate longer-term changes in behavior, experiences must be producing stable changes in neuronal morphology and synaptic connectivity. Tactile stimulation is a positive early experience that mimics maternal licking and grooming in the rat. Exposing rat pups to this positive experience can be completed easily and cost-effectively by using highly accessible materials such as a household duster. Using a cross-litter design, pups are either stroked or left undisturbed, for 15 min, three times per day throughout the perinatal period. To measure the neuroplastic changes related to this positive early experience, Golgi-Cox staining of brain tissue is utilized. Owing to the fact that Golgi-Cox impregnation stains a discrete number of neurons rather than all of the cells, staining of the rodent brain with Golgi-Cox solution permits the visualization of entire neuronal elements, including the cell body, dendrites, axons, and dendritic spines. The staining procedure is carried out over several days and requires that the researcher pay close attention to detail. However, once staining is completed, the entire brain has been impregnated and can be preserved indefinitely for ongoing analysis. Therefore, Golgi-Cox staining is a valuable resource for studying experience-dependent plasticity.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Brain, Prefrontal Cortex, Neurons, Massage, Staining and Labeling, mPFC, spine density, methodology, enrichment
Investigations on Alterations of Hippocampal Circuit Function Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
Institutions: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) afflicts more than 1.7 million people in the United States each year and even mild TBI can lead to persistent neurological impairments 1
. Two pervasive and disabling symptoms experienced by TBI survivors, memory deficits and a reduction in seizure threshold, are thought to be mediated by TBI-induced hippocampal dysfunction 2,3
. In order to demonstrate how altered hippocampal circuit function adversely affects behavior after TBI in mice, we employ lateral fluid percussion injury, a commonly used animal model of TBI that recreates many features of human TBI including neuronal cell loss, gliosis, and ionic perturbation 4-6
Here we demonstrate a combinatorial method for investigating TBI-induced hippocampal dysfunction. Our approach incorporates multiple ex vivo
physiological techniques together with animal behavior and biochemical analysis, in order to analyze post-TBI changes in the hippocampus. We begin with the experimental injury paradigm along with behavioral analysis to assess cognitive disability following TBI. Next, we feature three distinct ex vivo
recording techniques: extracellular field potential recording, visualized whole-cell patch-clamping, and voltage sensitive dye recording. Finally, we demonstrate a method for regionally dissecting subregions of the hippocampus that can be useful for detailed analysis of neurochemical and metabolic alterations post-TBI.
These methods have been used to examine the alterations in hippocampal circuitry following TBI and to probe the opposing changes in network circuit function that occur in the dentate gyrus and CA1 subregions of the hippocampus (see Figure 1
). The ability to analyze the post-TBI changes in each subregion is essential to understanding the underlying mechanisms contributing to TBI-induced behavioral and cognitive deficits.
The multi-faceted system outlined here allows investigators to push past characterization of phenomenology induced by a disease state (in this case TBI) and determine the mechanisms responsible for the observed pathology associated with TBI.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, hippocampus, traumatic brain injury, electrophysiology, patch clamp, voltage sensitive dye, extracellular recording, high-performance liquid chromatography, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
Visualization and Genetic Manipulation of Dendrites and Spines in the Mouse Cerebral Cortex and Hippocampus using In utero Electroporation
Institutions: MRC National Institute for Medical Research, National Institute for Medical Research, Université de Bordeaux.
In utero electroporation (IUE) has become a powerful technique to study the development of different regions of the embryonic nervous system 1-5
. To date this tool has been widely used to study the regulation of cellular proliferation, differentiation and neuronal migration especially in the developing cerebral cortex 6-8
. Here we detail our protocol to electroporate in utero the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus and provide evidence that this approach can be used to study dendrites and spines in these two cerebral regions.
Visualization and manipulation of neurons in primary cultures have contributed to a better understanding of the processes involved in dendrite, spine and synapse development. However neurons growing in vitro are not exposed to all the physiological cues that can affect dendrite and/or spine formation and maintenance during normal development. Our knowledge of dendrite and spine structures in vivo
in wild-type or mutant mice comes mostly from observations using the Golgi-Cox method 9
. However, Golgi staining is considered to be unpredictable. Indeed, groups of nerve cells and fiber tracts are labeled randomly, with particular areas often appearing completely stained while adjacent areas are devoid of staining. Recent studies have shown that IUE of fluorescent constructs represents an attractive alternative method to study dendrites, spines as well as synapses in mutant / wild-type mice 10-11
). Moreover in comparison to the generation of mouse knockouts, IUE represents a rapid approach to perform gain and loss of function studies in specific population of cells during a specific time window. In addition, IUE has been successfully used with inducible gene expression or inducible RNAi approaches to refine the temporal control over the expression of a gene or shRNA 12
. These advantages of IUE have thus opened new dimensions to study the effect of gene expression/suppression on dendrites and spines not only in specific cerebral structures (Figure 1B
) but also at a specific time point of development (Figure 1C
Finally, IUE provides a useful tool to identify functional interactions between genes involved in dendrite, spine and/or synapse development. Indeed, in contrast to other gene transfer methods such as virus, it is straightforward to combine multiple RNAi or transgenes in the same population of cells.
In summary, IUE is a powerful method that has already contributed to the characterization of molecular mechanisms underlying brain function and disease and it should also be useful in the study of dendrites and spines.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Neuronal development, In utero electroporation, dendrite, spines, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, gain and loss of function
Studying the Integration of Adult-born Neurons
Institutions: State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Neurogenesis occurs in adult mammalian brains in the sub-ventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricle and in the sub-granular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampal dentate gyrus throughout life. Previous reports have shown that adult hippocampal neurogenesis is associated with diverse brain disorders, including epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety (1
). Deciphering the process of normal and aberrant adult-born neuron integration may shed light on the etiology of these diseases and inform the development of new therapies.
SGZ adult neurogenesis mirrors embryonic and post-natal neuronal development, including stages of fate specification, migration, synaptic integration, and maturation. However, full integration occurs over a prolonged, 6-week period. Initial synaptic input to adult-born SGZ dentate granule cells (DGCs) is GABAergic, followed by glutamatergic input at 14 days (2
). The specific factors which regulate circuit formation of adult-born neurons in the dentate gyrus are currently unknown.
Our laboratory uses a replication-deficient retroviral vector based on the Moloney murine leukemia virus to deliver fluorescent proteins and hypothesized regulatory genes to these proliferating cells. This viral technique provides high specificity and resolution for analysis of cell birth date, lineage, morphology, and synaptogenesis.
A typical experiment often employs two or three viruses containing unique label, transgene, and promoter elements for single-cell analysis of a desired developmental process in vivo
. The following protocol describes a method for analyzing functional newborn neuron integration using a single green (GFP) or red (dTomato) fluorescent protein retrovirus and patch-clamp electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, dentate gyrus, neurogenesis, newborn dentate granule cells, functional integration
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
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
Improved Preparation and Preservation of Hippocampal Mouse Slices for a Very Stable and Reproducible Recording of Long-term Potentiation
Institutions: University of Mons.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a type of synaptic plasticity characterized by an increase in synaptic strength and believed to be involved in memory encoding. LTP elicited in the CA1 region of acute hippocampal slices has been extensively studied. However the molecular mechanisms underlying the maintenance phase of this phenomenon are still poorly understood. This could be partly due to the various experimental conditions used by different laboratories. Indeed, the maintenance phase of LTP is strongly dependent on external parameters like oxygenation, temperature and humidity. It is also dependent on internal parameters like orientation of the slicing plane and slice viability after dissection.
The optimization of all these parameters enables the induction of a very reproducible and very stable long-term potentiation. This methodology offers the possibility to further explore the molecular mechanisms involved in the stable increase in synaptic strength in hippocampal slices. It also highlights the importance of experimental conditions in in vitro
investigation of neurophysiological phenomena.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Memory Disorders, Learning, Memory, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, hippocampus, long-term potentiation, mice, acute slices, synaptic plasticity, in vitro, electrophysiology, animal model
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
Lateral Diffusion and Exocytosis of Membrane Proteins in Cultured Neurons Assessed using Fluorescence Recovery and Fluorescence-loss Photobleaching
Institutions: University of Bristol.
Membrane proteins such as receptors and ion channels undergo active trafficking in neurons, which are highly polarised and morphologically complex. This directed trafficking is of fundamental importance to deliver, maintain or remove synaptic proteins.
Super-ecliptic pHluorin (SEP) is a pH-sensitive derivative of eGFP that has been extensively used for live cell imaging of plasma membrane proteins1-2
. At low pH, protonation of SEP decreases photon absorption and eliminates fluorescence emission. As most intracellular trafficking events occur in compartments with low pH, where SEP fluorescence is eclipsed, the fluorescence signal from SEP-tagged proteins is predominantly from the plasma membrane where the SEP is exposed to a neutral pH extracellular environment. When illuminated at high intensity SEP, like every fluorescent dye, is irreversibly photodamaged (photobleached)3-5
. Importantly, because low pH quenches photon absorption, only surface expressed SEP can be photobleached whereas intracellular SEP is unaffected by the high intensity illumination6-10
FRAP (fluorescence recovery after photobleaching) of SEP-tagged proteins is a convenient and powerful technique for assessing protein dynamics at the plasma membrane. When fluorescently tagged proteins are photobleached in a region of interest (ROI) the recovery in fluorescence occurs due to the movement of unbleached SEP-tagged proteins into the bleached region. This can occur via lateral diffusion and/or from exocytosis of non-photobleached receptors supplied either by de novo
synthesis or recycling (see Fig. 1). The fraction of immobile and mobile protein can be determined and the mobility and kinetics of the diffusible fraction can be interrogated under basal and stimulated conditions such as agonist application or neuronal activation stimuli such as NMDA or KCl application8,10
We describe photobleaching techniques designed to selectively visualize the recovery of fluorescence attributable to exocytosis. Briefly, an ROI is photobleached once as with standard FRAP protocols, followed, after a brief recovery, by repetitive bleaching of the flanking regions. This 'FRAP-FLIP' protocol, developed in our lab, has been used to characterize AMPA receptor trafficking at dendritic spines10
, and is applicable to a wide range of trafficking studies to evaluate the intracellular trafficking and exocytosis.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching, FRAP, Confocal imaging, fluorophore, GFP, Super-ecliptic pHluorin, SEP, fluorescence loss in photobleach, FLIP, neuron, protein traffic, synapse
Strategies for Study of Neuroprotection from Cold-preconditioning
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Neurological injury is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality from general anesthesia and related surgical procedures that could be alleviated by development of effective, easy to administer and safe preconditioning treatments. We seek to define the neural immune signaling responsible for cold-preconditioning as means to identify novel targets for therapeutics development to protect brain before injury onset. Low-level pro-inflammatory mediator signaling changes over time are essential for cold-preconditioning neuroprotection. This signaling is consistent with the basic tenets of physiological conditioning hormesis, which require that irritative stimuli reach a threshold magnitude with sufficient time for adaptation to the stimuli for protection to become evident.
Accordingly, delineation of the immune signaling involved in cold-preconditioning neuroprotection requires that biological systems and experimental manipulations plus technical capacities are highly reproducible and sensitive. Our approach is to use hippocampal slice cultures as an in vitro
model that closely reflects their in vivo
counterparts with multi-synaptic neural networks influenced by mature and quiescent macroglia / microglia. This glial state is particularly important for microglia since they are the principal source of cytokines, which are operative in the femtomolar range. Also, slice cultures can be maintained in vitro
for several weeks, which is sufficient time to evoke activating stimuli and assess adaptive responses. Finally, environmental conditions can be accurately controlled using slice cultures so that cytokine signaling of cold-preconditioning can be measured, mimicked, and modulated to dissect the critical node aspects. Cytokine signaling system analyses require the use of sensitive and reproducible multiplexed techniques. We use quantitative PCR for TNF-α to screen for microglial activation followed by quantitative real-time qPCR array screening to assess tissue-wide cytokine changes. The latter is a most sensitive and reproducible means to measure multiple cytokine system signaling changes simultaneously. Significant changes are confirmed with targeted qPCR and then protein detection. We probe for tissue-based cytokine protein changes using multiplexed microsphere flow cytometric assays using Luminex technology. Cell-specific cytokine production is determined with double-label immunohistochemistry. Taken together, this brain tissue preparation and style of use, coupled to the suggested investigative strategies, may be an optimal approach for identifying potential targets for the development of novel therapeutics that could mimic the advantages of cold-preconditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, hippocampus, slice culture, immunohistochemistry, neural-immune, gene expression, real-time PCR
Post-embedding Immunogold Labeling of Synaptic Proteins in Hippocampal Slice Cultures
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin , Medical College of Wisconsin .
Immunoelectron microscopy is a powerful tool to study biological molecules at the subcellular level. Antibodies coupled to electron-dense markers such as colloidal gold can reveal the localization and distribution of specific antigens in various tissues1
. The two most widely used techniques are pre-embedding and post-embedding techniques. In pre-embedding immunogold-electron microscopy (EM) techniques, the tissue must be permeabilized to allow antibody penetration before it is embedded. These techniques are ideal for preserving structures but poor penetration of the antibody (often only the first few micrometers) is a considerable drawback2
. The post-embedding labeling methods can avoid this problem because labeling takes place on sections of fixed tissues where antigens are more easily accessible. Over the years, a number of modifications have improved the post-embedding methods to enhance immunoreactivity and to preserve ultrastructure3-5
Tissue fixation is a crucial part of EM studies. Fixatives chemically crosslink the macromolecules to lock the tissue structures in place. The choice of fixative affects not only structural preservation but also antigenicity and contrast. Osmium tetroxide (OsO4
), formaldehyde, and glutaraldehyde have been the standard fixatives for decades, including for central nervous system (CNS) tissues that are especially prone to structural damage during chemical and physical processing. Unfortunately, OsO4
is highly reactive and has been shown to mask antigens6
, resulting in poor and insufficient labeling. Alternative approaches to avoid chemical fixation include freezing the tissues. But these techniques are difficult to perform and require expensive instrumentation. To address some of these problems and to improve CNS tissue labeling, Phend et al
. replaced OsO4
with uranyl acetate (UA) and tannic acid (TA), and successfully introduced additional modifications to improve the sensitivity of antigen detection and structural preservation in brain and spinal cord tissues7
. We have adopted this osmium-free post-embedding method to rat brain tissue and optimized the immunogold labeling technique to detect and study synaptic proteins.
We present here a method to determine the ultrastructural localization of synaptic proteins in rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. We use organotypic hippocampal cultured slices. These slices maintain the trisynaptic circuitry of the hippocampus, and thus are especially useful for studying synaptic plasticity, a mechanism widely thought to underlie learning and memory. Organotypic hippocampal slices from postnatal day 5 and 6 mouse/rat pups can be prepared as described previously8
, and are especially useful to acutely knockdown or overexpress exogenous proteins. We have previously used this protocol to characterize neurogranin (Ng), a neuron-specific protein with a critical role in regulating synaptic function8,9
. We have also used it to characterize the ultrastructural localization of calmodulin (CaM) and Ca2+
/CaM-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII)10
. As illustrated in the results, this protocol allows good ultrastructural preservation of dendritic spines and efficient labeling of Ng to help characterize its distribution in the spine8
. Furthermore, the procedure described here can have wide applicability in studying many other proteins involved in neuronal functions.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Immunology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Proteins, Immunohistochemistry, Immunological Synapses, Synapses, Hippocampus, Microscopy, Electron, Neuronal Plasticity, plasticity, Nervous System, Organotypic cultures, hippocampus, electron microscopy, post-embedding, immunogold labeling, fixation, cell culture, imaging
Eye Tracking, Cortisol, and a Sleep vs. Wake Consolidation Delay: Combining Methods to Uncover an Interactive Effect of Sleep and Cortisol on Memory
Institutions: Boston College, Wofford College, University of Notre Dame.
Although rises in cortisol can benefit memory consolidation, as can sleep soon after encoding, there is currently a paucity of literature as to how these two factors may interact to influence consolidation. Here we present a protocol to examine the interactive influence of cortisol and sleep on memory consolidation, by combining three methods: eye tracking, salivary cortisol analysis, and behavioral memory testing across sleep and wake delays. To assess resting cortisol levels, participants gave a saliva sample before viewing negative and neutral objects within scenes. To measure overt attention, participants’ eye gaze was tracked during encoding. To manipulate whether sleep occurred during the consolidation window, participants either encoded scenes in the evening, slept overnight, and took a recognition test the next morning, or encoded scenes in the morning and remained awake during a comparably long retention interval. Additional control groups were tested after a 20 min delay in the morning or evening, to control for time-of-day effects. Together, results showed that there is a direct relation between resting cortisol at encoding and subsequent memory, only following a period of sleep. Through eye tracking, it was further determined that for negative stimuli, this beneficial effect of cortisol on subsequent memory may be due to cortisol strengthening the relation between where participants look during encoding and what they are later able to remember. Overall, results obtained by a combination of these methods uncovered an interactive effect of sleep and cortisol on memory consolidation.
Behavior, Issue 88, attention, consolidation, cortisol, emotion, encoding, glucocorticoids, memory, sleep, stress
Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: University of Auckland, Stanford University.
Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, hippocampus, paired recording, whole cell recording, organotypic slice, synapse, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity
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
Imaging Dendritic Spines of Rat Primary Hippocampal Neurons using Structured Illumination Microscopy
Institutions: University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam.
Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm.
Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro
, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Dendritic Spine, Microscopy, Confocal, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, hippocampus, primary neuron, super resolution microscopy, structured illumination microscopy (SIM), neuroscience, dendrite
Multi-photon Intracellular Sodium Imaging Combined with UV-mediated Focal Uncaging of Glutamate in CA1 Pyramidal Neurons
Institutions: Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.
Multi-photon fluorescence microscopy has enabled the analysis of morphological and physiological parameters of brain cells in the intact tissue with high spatial and temporal resolution. Combined with electrophysiology, it is widely used to study activity-related calcium signals in small subcellular compartments such as dendrites and dendritic spines. In addition to calcium transients, synaptic activity also induces postsynaptic sodium signals, the properties of which are only marginally understood. Here, we describe a method for combined whole-cell patch-clamp and multi-photon sodium imaging in cellular micro domains of central neurons. Furthermore, we introduce a modified procedure for ultra-violet (UV)-light-induced uncaging of glutamate, which allows reliable and focal activation of glutamate receptors in the tissue. To this end, whole-cell recordings were performed on Cornu Ammonis
subdivision 1 (CA1) pyramidal neurons in acute tissue slices of the mouse hippocampus. Neurons were filled with the sodium-sensitive fluorescent dye SBFI through the patch-pipette, and multi-photon excitation of SBFI enabled the visualization of dendrites and adjacent spines. To establish UV-induced focal uncaging, several parameters including light intensity, volume affected by the UV uncaging beam, positioning of the beam as well as concentration of the caged compound were tested and optimized. Our results show that local perfusion with caged glutamate (MNI-Glutamate) and its focal UV-uncaging result in inward currents and sodium transients in dendrites and spines. Time course and amplitude of both inward currents and sodium signals correlate with the duration of the uncaging pulse. Furthermore, our results show that intracellular sodium signals are blocked in the presence of blockers for ionotropic glutamate receptors, demonstrating that they are mediated by sodium influx though this pathway. In summary, our method provides a reliable tool for the investigation of intracellular sodium signals induced by focal receptor activation in intact brain tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Neurosciences, two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp, UV-flash photolysis, mouse, hippocampus, caged compounds, glutamate, brain slice, dendrite, sodium signals
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
Preparation of Synaptic Plasma Membrane and Postsynaptic Density Proteins Using a Discontinuous Sucrose Gradient
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Neuronal subcellular fractionation techniques allow the quantification of proteins that are trafficked to and from the synapse. As originally described in the late 1960’s, proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane can be isolated by ultracentrifugation on a sucrose density gradient. Once synaptic membranes are isolated, the macromolecular complex known as the post-synaptic density can be subsequently isolated due to its detergent insolubility. The techniques used to isolate synaptic plasma membranes and post-synaptic density proteins remain essentially the same after 40 years, and are widely used in current neuroscience research. This article details the fractionation of proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane and post-synaptic density using a discontinuous sucrose gradient. Resulting protein preparations are suitable for western blotting or 2D DIGE analysis.
Neurobiology, Issue 91, brain, synapse, western blot, ultracentrifugation, SPM, PSD
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
Organotypic Hippocampal Slice Cultures
Institutions: University of Washington School of Medicine.
The hippocampus, a component of the limbic system, plays important roles in long-term memory and spatial navigation 1
. Hippocampal neurons can modify the strength of their connections after brief periods of strong activation. This phenomenon, known as long-term potentiation (LTP) can last for hours or days and has become the best candidate mechanism for learning and memory 2
. In addition, the well defined anatomy and connectivity of the hippocampus 3
has made it a classical model system to study synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity4
As our understanding of the physiology of hippocampal synapses grew and molecular players became identified, a need to manipulate synaptic proteins became imperative. Organotypic hippocampal cultures offer the possibility for easy gene manipulation and precise pharmacological intervention but maintain synaptic organization that is critical to understanding synapse function in a more naturalistic context than routine culture dissociated neurons methods.
Here we present a method to prepare and culture hippocampal slices that can be easily adapted to other brain regions. This method allows easy access to the slices for genetic manipulation using different approaches like viral infection 5,6
or biolistics 7
. In addition, slices can be easily recovered for biochemical assays 8
, or transferred to microscopes for imaging 9
or electrophysiological experiments 10
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Hippocampus, Hippocampal formation, Brain Slices, Organotypic Cultures, Synaptic Transmission, Synaptic Physiology
Morris Water Maze Experiment
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU).
The Morris water maze is widely used to study spatial memory and learning. Animals are placed in a pool of water that is colored opaque with powdered non-fat milk or non-toxic tempera paint, where they must swim to a hidden escape platform. Because they are in opaque water, the animals cannot see the platform, and cannot rely on scent to find the escape route. Instead, they must rely on external/extra-maze cues. As the animals become more familiar with the task, they are able to find the platform more quickly. Developed by Richard G. Morris in 1984, this paradigm has become one of the "gold standards" of behavioral neuroscience.
Behavior, Issue 19, Declarative, Hippocampus, Memory, Procedural, Rodent, Spatial Learning