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High content image analysis identifies novel regulators of synaptogenesis in a high-throughput RNAi screen of primary neurons.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
The formation of synapses, the specialized points of chemical communication between neurons, is a highly regulated developmental process fundamental to establishing normal brain circuitry. Perturbations of synapse formation and function causally contribute to human developmental and degenerative neuropsychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, intellectual disability, and autism spectrum disorders. Many genes controlling synaptogenesis have been identified, but lack of facile experimental systems has made systematic discovery of regulators of synaptogenesis challenging. Thus, we created a high-throughput platform to study excitatory and inhibitory synapse development in primary neuronal cultures and used a lentiviral RNA interference library to identify novel regulators of synapse formation. This methodology is broadly applicable for high-throughput screening of genes and drugs that may rescue or improve synaptic dysfunction associated with cognitive function and neurological disorders.
Authors: Laura E. Brown, Celine Fuchs, Martin W. Nicholson, F. Anne Stephenson, Alex M. Thomson, Jasmina N. Jovanovic.
Published: 11-14-2014
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 receptors (GABAARs) 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 GABAARs 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 GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR 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 GABAARs 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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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Preparation of Oligomeric β-amyloid1-42 and Induction of Synaptic Plasticity Impairment on Hippocampal Slices
Authors: Mauro Fa, Ian J. Orozco, Yitshak I. Francis, Faisal Saeed, Yimin Gong, Ottavio Arancio.
Institutions: Columbia University.
Impairment of synaptic connections is likely to underlie the subtle amnesic changes occurring at the early stages of Alzheimer s Disease (AD). β-amyloid (Aβ), a peptide produced in high amounts in AD, is known to reduce Long-Term Potentiation (LTP), a cellular correlate of learning and memory. Indeed, LTP impairment caused by Aβ is a useful experimental paradigm for studying synaptic dysfunctions in AD models and for screening drugs capable of mitigating or reverting such synaptic impairments. Studies have shown that Aβ produces the LTP disruption preferentially via its oligomeric form. Here we provide a detailed protocol for impairing LTP by perfusion of oligomerized synthetic Aβ1-42 peptide onto acute hippocampal slices. In this video, we outline a step-by-step procedure for the preparation of oligomeric Aβ1-42. Then, we follow an individual experiment in which LTP is reduced in hippocampal slices exposed to oligomerized Aβ1-42 compared to slices in a control experiment where no Aβ1-42 exposure had occurred.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, brain, mouse, hippocampus, plasticity, LTP, amyloid
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Simultaneous Pre- and Post-synaptic Electrophysiological Recording from Xenopus Nerve-muscle Co-cultures
Authors: Bruce Yazejian, Rita M. Yazejian, Rachel Einarsson, Alan D. Grinnell.
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Pepperdine University.
Much information about the coupling of presynaptic ionic currents with the release of neurotransmitter has been obtained from invertebrate preparations, most notably the squid giant synapse1. However, except for the preparation described here, few vertebrate preparations exist in which it is possible to make simultaneous measurements of neurotransmitter release and presynaptic ionic currents. Embryonic Xenopus motoneurons and muscle cells can be grown together in simple culture medium at room temperature; they will form functional synapses within twelve to twenty-four hours, and can be used to study nerve and muscle cell development and synaptic interactions for several days (until overgrowth occurs). Some advantages of these co-cultures over other vertebrate preparations include the simplicity of preparation, the ability to maintain the cultures and work at room temperature, and the ready accessibility of the synapses formed2-4. The preparation has been used widely to study the biophysical properties of presynaptic ion channels and the regulation of transmitter release5-8. In addition, the preparation has lent itself to other uses including the study of neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis9-12, molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter release13-15, the role of diffusible messengers in neuromodulation16,17, and in vitro synaptic plasticity18-19.
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biophysics, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Electrophysiology, Neurophysiology, Xenopus, patch clamp, primary culture, embryo, synapses, synaptogenesis, synaptic currents, neurotransmitter release, varicosity, neurite guidance, neurons, motoneurons, cell culture, microdisection, animal model
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Preparation of Aplysia Sensory-motor Neuronal Cell Cultures
Authors: Yali Zhao, Dan O. Wang, Kelsey C. Martin.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
The nervous system of the marine mollusk Aplysia californica is relatively simple, consisting of approximately 20,000 neurons. The neurons are large (up to 1 mm in diameter) and identifiable, with distinct sizes, shapes, positions and pigmentations, and the cell bodies are externally exposed in five paired ganglia distributed throughout the body of the animal. These properties have allowed investigators to delineate the circuitry underlying specific behaviors in the animal1. The monosynaptic connection between sensory and motor neurons is a central component of the gill-withdrawal reflex in the animal, a simple defensive reflex in which the animal withdraws its gill in response to tactile stimulation of the siphon. This reflex undergoes forms of non-associative and associative learning, including sensitization, habituation and classical conditioning. Of particular benefit to the study of synaptic plasticity, the sensory-motor synapse can be reconstituted in culture, where well-characterized stimuli elicit forms of plasticity that have direct correlates in the behavior of the animal2,3. Specifically, application of serotonin produces a synaptic strengthening that, depending on the application protocol, lasts for minutes (short-term facilitation), hours (intermediate-term facilitation) or days (long-term facilitation). In contrast, application of the peptide transmitter FMRFamide produces a synaptic weakening or depression that, depending on the application protocol, can last from minutes to days (long-term depression). The large size of the neurons allows for repeated sharp electrode recording of synaptic strength over periods of days together with microinjection of expression vectors, siRNAs and other compounds to target specific signaling cascades and molecules and thereby identify the molecular and cell biological steps that underlie the changes in synaptic efficacy. An additional advantage of the Aplysia culture system comes from the fact that the neurons demonstrate synapse-specificity in culture4,5. Thus, sensory neurons do not form synapses with themselves (autapses) or with other sensory neurons, nor do they form synapses with non-target identified motor neurons in culture. The varicosities, sites of synaptic contact between sensory and motor neurons, are large enough (2-7 microns in diameter) to allow synapse formation (as well as changes in synaptic morphology) with target motor neurons to be studied at the light microscopic level. In this video, we demonstrate each step of preparing sensory-motor neuron cultures, including anesthetizing adult and juvenile Aplysia, dissecting their ganglia, protease digestion of the ganglia, removal of the connective tissue by microdissection, identification of both sensory and motor neurons and removal of each cell type by microdissection, plating of the motor neuron, addition of the sensory neuron and manipulation of the sensory neurite to form contact with the cultured motor neuron.
Neuroscience, Issue 28, Aplysia Californica, Synaptic Plasticity, Sensory Motor Neuronal Cultures, Invertebrates, Short-Term Facilitation, Monosynaptic, Intermediate-Term Facilitation, Ganglia, Long-Term Depression, Autapses, Sirnas, Glutamatergic Synapses, Somata
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Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Authors: Elizabeth C. Pino, Christopher M. Webster, Christopher E. Carr, Alexander A. Soukas.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans metabolic research.
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
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siRNA Screening to Identify Ubiquitin and Ubiquitin-like System Regulators of Biological Pathways in Cultured Mammalian Cells
Authors: John S. Bett, Adel F. M. Ibrahim, Amit K. Garg, Sonia Rocha, Ronald T. Hay.
Institutions: University of Dundee, University of Dundee.
Post-translational modification of proteins with ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like molecules (UBLs) is emerging as a dynamic cellular signaling network that regulates diverse biological pathways including the hypoxia response, proteostasis, the DNA damage response and transcription.  To better understand how UBLs regulate pathways relevant to human disease, we have compiled a human siRNA “ubiquitome” library consisting of 1,186 siRNA duplex pools targeting all known and predicted components of UBL system pathways. This library can be screened against a range of cell lines expressing reporters of diverse biological pathways to determine which UBL components act as positive or negative regulators of the pathway in question.  Here, we describe a protocol utilizing this library to identify ubiquitome-regulators of the HIF1A-mediated cellular response to hypoxia using a transcription-based luciferase reporter.  An initial assay development stage is performed to establish suitable screening parameters of the cell line before performing the screen in three stages: primary, secondary and tertiary/deconvolution screening.  The use of targeted over whole genome siRNA libraries is becoming increasingly popular as it offers the advantage of reporting only on members of the pathway with which the investigators are most interested.  Despite inherent limitations of siRNA screening, in particular false-positives caused by siRNA off-target effects, the identification of genuine novel regulators of the pathways in question outweigh these shortcomings, which can be overcome by performing a series of carefully undertaken control experiments.
Biochemistry, Issue 87, siRNA screening, ubiquitin, UBL, ubiquitome, hypoxia, HIF1A, High-throughput, mammalian cells, luciferase reporter
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High-throughput Functional Screening using a Homemade Dual-glow Luciferase Assay
Authors: Jessica M. Baker, Frederick M. Boyce.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital.
We present a rapid and inexpensive high-throughput screening protocol to identify transcriptional regulators of alpha-synuclein, a gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 293T cells are transiently transfected with plasmids from an arrayed ORF expression library, together with luciferase reporter plasmids, in a one-gene-per-well microplate format. Firefly luciferase activity is assayed after 48 hr to determine the effects of each library gene upon alpha-synuclein transcription, normalized to expression from an internal control construct (a hCMV promoter directing Renilla luciferase). This protocol is facilitated by a bench-top robot enclosed in a biosafety cabinet, which performs aseptic liquid handling in 96-well format. Our automated transfection protocol is readily adaptable to high-throughput lentiviral library production or other functional screening protocols requiring triple-transfections of large numbers of unique library plasmids in conjunction with a common set of helper plasmids. We also present an inexpensive and validated alternative to commercially-available, dual luciferase reagents which employs PTC124, EDTA, and pyrophosphate to suppress firefly luciferase activity prior to measurement of Renilla luciferase. Using these methods, we screened 7,670 human genes and identified 68 regulators of alpha-synuclein. This protocol is easily modifiable to target other genes of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 88, Luciferases, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transfection, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Transfections, Robotics
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Quantitative and Automated High-throughput Genome-wide RNAi Screens in C. elegans
Authors: Barbara Squiban, Jérôme Belougne, Jonathan Ewbank, Olivier Zugasti.
Institutions: Université de la Méditerranée.
RNA interference is a powerful method to understand gene function, especially when conducted at a whole-genome scale and in a quantitative context. In C. elegans, gene function can be knocked down simply and efficiently by feeding worms with bacteria expressing a dsRNA corresponding to a specific gene 1. While the creation of libraries of RNAi clones covering most of the C. elegans genome 2,3 opened the way for true functional genomic studies (see for example 4-7), most established methods are laborious. Moy and colleagues have developed semi-automated protocols that facilitate genome-wide screens 8. The approach relies on microscopic imaging and image analysis. Here we describe an alternative protocol for a high-throughput genome-wide screen, based on robotic handling of bacterial RNAi clones, quantitative analysis using the COPAS Biosort (Union Biometrica (UBI)), and an integrated software: the MBioLIMS (Laboratory Information Management System from Modul-Bio) a technology that provides increased throughput for data management and sample tracking. The method allows screens to be conducted on solid medium plates. This is particularly important for some studies, such as those addressing host-pathogen interactions in C. elegans, since certain microbes do not efficiently infect worms in liquid culture. We show how the method can be used to quantify the importance of genes in anti-fungal innate immunity in C. elegans. In this case, the approach relies on the use of a transgenic strain carrying an epidermal infection-inducible fluorescent reporter gene, with GFP under the control of the promoter of the antimicrobial peptide gene nlp 29 and a red fluorescent reporter that is expressed constitutively in the epidermis. The latter provides an internal control for the functional integrity of the epidermis and nonspecific transgene silencing9. When control worms are infected by the fungus they fluoresce green. Knocking down by RNAi a gene required for nlp 29 expression results in diminished fluorescence after infection. Currently, this protocol allows more than 3,000 RNAi clones to be tested and analyzed per week, opening the possibility of screening the entire genome in less than 2 months.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, C. elegans, fluorescent reporter, Biosort, LIMS, innate immunity, Drechmeria coniospora
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A Microscopic Phenotypic Assay for the Quantification of Intracellular Mycobacteria Adapted for High-throughput/High-content Screening
Authors: Christophe. J Queval, Ok-Ryul Song, Vincent Delorme, Raffaella Iantomasi, Romain Veyron-Churlet, Nathalie Deboosère, Valérie Landry, Alain Baulard, Priscille Brodin.
Institutions: Université de Lille.
Despite the availability of therapy and vaccine, tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the most deadly and widespread bacterial infections in the world. Since several decades, the sudden burst of multi- and extensively-drug resistant strains is a serious threat for the control of tuberculosis. Therefore, it is essential to identify new targets and pathways critical for the causative agent of the tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) and to search for novel chemicals that could become TB drugs. One approach is to set up methods suitable for the genetic and chemical screens of large scale libraries enabling the search of a needle in a haystack. To this end, we developed a phenotypic assay relying on the detection of fluorescently labeled Mtb within fluorescently labeled host cells using automated confocal microscopy. This in vitro assay allows an image based quantification of the colonization process of Mtb into the host and was optimized for the 384-well microplate format, which is proper for screens of siRNA-, chemical compound- or Mtb mutant-libraries. The images are then processed for multiparametric analysis, which provides read out inferring on the pathogenesis of Mtb within host cells.
Infection, Issue 83, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, High-content/High-throughput screening, chemogenomics, Drug Discovery, siRNA library, automated confocal microscopy, image-based analysis
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Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Authors: Jessica M. Posimo, Ajay S. Unnithan, Amanda M. Gleixner, Hailey J. Choi, Yiran Jiang, Sree H. Pulugulla, Rehana K. Leak.
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
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High Content Screening in Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Shushant Jain, Ronald E. van Kesteren, Peter Heutink.
Institutions: VU University Medical Center, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam.
The functional annotation of genomes, construction of molecular networks and novel drug target identification, are important challenges that need to be addressed as a matter of great urgency1-4. Multiple complementary 'omics' approaches have provided clues as to the genetic risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms underlying numerous neurodegenerative diseases, but most findings still require functional validation5. For example, a recent genome wide association study for Parkinson's Disease (PD), identified many new loci as risk factors for the disease, but the underlying causative variant(s) or pathogenic mechanism is not known6, 7. As each associated region can contain several genes, the functional evaluation of each of the genes on phenotypes associated with the disease, using traditional cell biology techniques would take too long. There is also a need to understand the molecular networks that link genetic mutations to the phenotypes they cause. It is expected that disease phenotypes are the result of multiple interactions that have been disrupted. Reconstruction of these networks using traditional molecular methods would be time consuming. Moreover, network predictions from independent studies of individual components, the reductionism approach, will probably underestimate the network complexity8. This underestimation could, in part, explain the low success rate of drug approval due to undesirable or toxic side effects. Gaining a network perspective of disease related pathways using HT/HC cellular screening approaches, and identifying key nodes within these pathways, could lead to the identification of targets that are more suited for therapeutic intervention. High-throughput screening (HTS) is an ideal methodology to address these issues9-12. but traditional methods were one dimensional whole-well cell assays, that used simplistic readouts for complex biological processes. They were unable to simultaneously quantify the many phenotypes observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as axonal transport deficits or alterations in morphology properties13, 14. This approach could not be used to investigate the dynamic nature of cellular processes or pathogenic events that occur in a subset of cells. To quantify such features one has to move to multi-dimensional phenotypes termed high-content screening (HCS)4, 15-17. HCS is the cell-based quantification of several processes simultaneously, which provides a more detailed representation of the cellular response to various perturbations compared to HTS. HCS has many advantages over HTS18, 19, but conducting a high-throughput (HT)-high-content (HC) screen in neuronal models is problematic due to high cost, environmental variation and human error. In order to detect cellular responses on a 'phenomics' scale using HC imaging one has to reduce variation and error, while increasing sensitivity and reproducibility. Herein we describe a method to accurately and reliably conduct shRNA screens using automated cell culturing20 and HC imaging in neuronal cellular models. We describe how we have used this methodology to identify modulators for one particular protein, DJ1, which when mutated causes autosomal recessive parkinsonism21. Combining the versatility of HC imaging with HT methods, it is possible to accurately quantify a plethora of phenotypes. This could subsequently be utilized to advance our understanding of the genome, the pathways involved in disease pathogenesis as well as identify potential therapeutic targets.
Medicine, Issue 59, High-throughput screening, high-content screening, neurodegeneration, automated cell culturing, Parkinson’s disease
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In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Authors: Adrienne R. Niederriter, Erica E. Davis, Christelle Golzio, Edwin C. Oh, I-Chun Tsai, Nicholas Katsanis.
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo, and can be genetically manipulated.1 These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
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Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Authors: Dominic M. Ippolito, Cagla Eroglu.
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, 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
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Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Authors: Deepak P. Srivastava, Kevin M. Woolfrey, Peter Penzes.
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
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.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
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),
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Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Authors: Hagit Turm, Diptendu Mukherjee, Doron Haritan, Maayan Tahor, Ami Citri.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The encoding of experiences in the brain and the consolidation of long-term memories depend on gene transcription. Identifying the function of specific genes in encoding experience is one of the main objectives of molecular neuroscience. Furthermore, the functional association of defined genes with specific behaviors has implications for understanding the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. Induction of robust transcription programs has been observed in the brains of mice following various behavioral manipulations. While some genetic elements are utilized recurrently following different behavioral manipulations and in different brain nuclei, transcriptional programs are overall unique to the inducing stimuli and the structure in which they are studied1,2. In this publication, a protocol is described for robust and comprehensive transcriptional profiling from brain nuclei of mice in response to behavioral manipulation. The protocol is demonstrated in the context of analysis of gene expression dynamics in the nucleus accumbens following acute cocaine experience. Subsequent to a defined in vivo experience, the target neural tissue is dissected; followed by RNA purification, reverse transcription and utilization of microfluidic arrays for comprehensive qPCR analysis of multiple target genes. This protocol is geared towards comprehensive analysis (addressing 50-500 genes) of limiting quantities of starting material, such as small brain samples or even single cells. The protocol is most advantageous for parallel analysis of multiple samples (e.g. single cells, dynamic analysis following pharmaceutical, viral or behavioral perturbations). However, the protocol could also serve for the characterization and quality assurance of samples prior to whole-genome studies by microarrays or RNAseq, as well as validation of data obtained from whole-genome studies.
Behavior, Issue 90, Brain, behavior, RNA, transcription, nucleus accumbens, cocaine, high-throughput qPCR, experience-dependent plasticity, gene regulatory networks, microdissection
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Intracellular Recording, Sensory Field Mapping, and Culturing Identified Neurons in the Leech, Hirudo medicinalis
Authors: Josh Titlow, Zana R. Majeed, John G Nicholls, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Salahaddin, Iraq, SISSA, Italy.
The freshwater leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is a versatile model organism that has been used to address scientific questions in the fields of neurophysiology, neuroethology, and developmental biology. The goal of this report is to consolidate experimental techniques from the leech system into a single article that will be of use to physiologists with expertise in other nervous system preparations, or to biology students with little or no electrophysiology experience. We demonstrate how to dissect the leech for recording intracellularly from identified neural circuits in the ganglion. Next we show how individual cells of known function can be removed from the ganglion to be cultured in a Petri dish, and how to record from those neurons in culture. Then we demonstrate how to prepare a patch of innervated skin to be used for mapping sensory or motor fields. These leech preparations are still widely used to address basic electrical properties of neural networks, behavior, synaptogenesis, and development. They are also an appropriate training module for neuroscience or physiology teaching laboratories.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, leech, Neurobiology, culture, neurons, electrophysiology, synapse, neurophysiology, neuroethology, developmental biology, ganglion, central nervous system (CNS)
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Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Authors: Kathryn N. Maher, Mary Catanese, Daniel L. Chase.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans lab.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Authors: Chantelle Fourie, Marianna Kiraly, Daniel V. Madison, Johanna M. Montgomery.
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
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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Electrophysiological Recording in the Drosophila Embryo
Authors: Kaiyun Chen, David E. Featherstone, Kendal Broadie.
Institutions: University of Illinois, Vanderbilt University.
Drosophila is a premier genetic model for the study of both embryonic development and functional neuroscience. Traditionally, these fields are quite isolated from each other, with largely independent histories and scientific communities. However, the interface between these usually disparate fields is the developmental programs underlying acquisition of functional electrical signaling properties and differentiation of functional chemical synapses during the final phases of neural circuit formation. This interface is a critically important area for investigation. In Drosophila, these phases of functional development occur during a period of <8 hours (at 25°C) during the last third of embryogenesis. This late developmental period was long considered intractable to investigation owing to the deposition of a tough, impermeable epidermal cuticle. A breakthrough advance was the application of water-polymerizing surgical glue that can be locally applied to the cuticle to enable controlled dissection of late-stage embryos. With a dorsal longitudinal incision, the embryo can be laid flat, exposing the ventral nerve cord and body wall musculature to experimental investigation. Whole-cell patch-clamp techniques can then be employed to record from individually-identifiable neurons and somatic muscles. These recording configurations have been used to track the appearance and maturation of ionic currents and action potential propagation in both neurons and muscles. Genetic mutants affecting these electrical properties have been characterized to reveal the molecular composition of ion channels and associated signaling complexes, and to begin exploration of the molecular mechanisms of functional differentiation. A particular focus has been the assembly of synaptic connections, both in the central nervous system and periphery. The glutamatergic neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is most accessible to a combination of optical imaging and electrophysiological recording. A glass suction electrode is used to stimulate the peripheral nerve, with excitatory junction current (EJC) recordings made in the voltage-clamped muscle. This recording configuration has been used to chart the functional differentiation of the synapse, and track the appearance and maturation of presynaptic glutamate release properties. In addition, postsynaptic properties can be assayed independently via iontophoretic or pressure application of glutamate directly to the muscle surface, to measure the appearance and maturation of the glutamate receptor fields. Thus, both pre- and postsynaptic elements can be monitored separately or in combination during embryonic synaptogenesis. This system has been heavily used to isolate and characterize genetic mutants that impair embryonic synapse formation, and thus reveal the molecular mechanisms governing the specification and differentiation of synapse connections and functional synaptic signaling properties.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, Drosophila, embryo, whole-cell patch-clamp, muscle, neuron, neuromuscular junction, synapse
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Dissection and Imaging of Active Zones in the Drosophila Neuromuscular Junction
Authors: Rebecca Smith, J. Paul Taylor.
Institutions: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The Drosophila larvae neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an excellent model for the study of synaptic structure and function. Drosophila is well known for the ease of powerful genetic manipulations and the larval nervous system has proven particularly useful in studying not only normal function but also perturbations that accompany some neurological disease (Lloyd and Taylor, 2010). Many key synaptic molecules found in Drosophila are also found in mammals and like most CNS excitatory synapses in mammals, the Drosophila NMJ is glutamatergic and demonstrates activity-dependent remodeling (Kohet al. , 2000). Additionally, Drosophila neurons can be individually identified because their innervation patterns are stereotyped and repetitive making it possible to study identified synaptic terminals, such as those between motor neurons and the body-wall muscle fibers that they innervate (Keshishian and Kim, 2004). The existence of evolutionarily conserved synapse components along with the ease of genetic and physical manipulation make the Drosophila model ideal for investigating the mechanisms underlying synaptic function (Budnik, 1996). The active zones at synaptic terminals are of particular interest because these are the sites of neurotransmitter release. NC82 is a monoclonal antibody that recognizes the Drosophila protein Bruchpilot (Brp), a CAST1/ERC family member that is an important component of the active zone (Waghet al. , 2006). Brp was shown to directly shape the active zone T-bar and is responsible for effectively clustering Ca2+ channels beneath the T-bar density (Fouquetet al. , 2009). Mutants of Brp have reduced Ca2+ channel density, depressed evoked vesicle release, and altered short-term plasticity (Kittelet al. , 2006). Alterations to active zones have been observed in Drosophila disease models. For example, immunofluorescence using the NC82 antibody showed that the active zone density was decreased in models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Pitt-Hopkins syndrome (Ratnaparkhiet al. , 2008; Zweieret al. , 2009). Thus, evaluation of active zones, or other synaptic proteins, in Drosophila larvae models of disease may provide a valuable initial clue to the presence of a synaptic defect. Preparing whole-mount dissected Drosophila larvae for immunofluorescence analysis of the NMJ requires some skill, but can be accomplished by most scientists with a little practice. Presented is a method that provides for multiple larvae to be dissected and immunostained in the same dissection dish, limiting environmental differences between each genotype and providing sufficient animals for confidence in reproducibility and statistical analysis.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Neuromuscular junction (NMJ), Drosophila, active zone, dissection, larva, Bruchpilot (Brp), NC82
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1 and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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Primary Neuronal Cultures from the Brains of Late Stage Drosophila Pupae
Authors: Beatriz Sicaeros, Jorge M. Campusano, Diane K. O'Dowd.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this video, we demonstrate the preparation of primary neuronal cultures from the brains of late stage Drosophila pupae. The procedure begins with the removal of brains from animals at 70-78 hrs after puparium formation. The isolated brains are shown after brief incubation in papain followed by several washes in serum-free growth medium. The process of mechanical dissociation of each brain in a 5 ul drop of media on a coverslip is illustrated. The axons and dendrites of the post-mitotic neurons are sheered off near the soma during dissociation but the neurons begin to regenerate processes within a few hours of plating. Images show live cultures at 2 days. Neurons continue to elaborate processes during the first week in culture. Specific neuronal populations can be identified in culture using GAL4 lines to drive tissue specific expression of fluorescent markers such as GFP or RFP. Whole cell recordings have demonstrated the cultured neurons form functional, spontaneously active cholinergic and GABAergic synapses. A short video segment illustrates calcium dynamics in the cultured neurons using Fura-2 as a calcium indicator dye to monitor spontaneous calcium transients and nicotine evoked calcium responses in a dish of cultured neurons. These pupal brain cultures are a useful model system in which genetic and pharmacological tools can be used to identify intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence formation and function of central synapses.
Neuroscience, issue 4, neuronal culture, insects, Drosophila, calcium imaging, Fura-2, primary neurons, defined medium, pupae
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