The spinal motoneuron has long been a good model system for studying neural function because it is a neuron of the central nervous system with the unique properties of (1) having readily identifiable targets (the muscle fibers) and therefore having a very well-known function (to control muscle contraction); (2) being the convergent target of many spinal and descending networks, hence the name of "final common pathway"; and (3) having a large soma which makes it possible to penetrate them with sharp intracellular electrodes. Furthermore, when studied in vivo, it is possible to record simultaneously the electrical activity of the motoneurons and the force developed by their muscle targets. Performing intracellular recordings of motoneurons in vivo therefore put the experimentalist in the unique position of being able to study, at the same time, all the compartments of the "motor unit" (the name given to the motoneuron, its axon, and the muscle fibers it innervates1): the inputs impinging on the motoneuron, the electrophysiological properties of the motoneuron, and the impact of these properties on the physiological function of the motoneurons, i.e. the force produced by its motor unit. However, this approach is very challenging because the preparation cannot be paralyzed and thus the mechanical stability for the intracellular recording is reduced. Thus, this kind of experiments has only been achieved in cats and in rats. However, the study of spinal motor systems could make a formidable leap if it was possible to perform similar experiments in normal and genetically modified mice.
For technical reasons, the study of the spinal networks in mice has mostly been limited to neonatal in vitro preparations, where the motoneurons and the spinal networks are immature, the motoneurons are separated from their targets, and when studied in slices, the motoneurons are separated from most of their inputs. Until recently, only a few groups had managed to perform intracellular recordings of motoneurons in vivo2-4 , including our team who published a new preparation which allowed us to obtain very stable recordings of motoneurons in vivo in adult mice5,6. However, these recordings were obtained in paralyzed animals, i.e. without the possibility to record the force output of these motoneurons. Here we present an extension of this original preparation in which we were able to obtain simultaneous recordings of the electrophysiological properties of the motoneurons and of the force developed by their motor unit. This is an important achievement, as it allows us to identify the different types of motoneurons based on their force profile, and thereby revealing their function. Coupled with genetic models disturbing spinal segmental circuitry7-9, or reproducting human disease10,11, we expect this technique to be an essential tool for the study of spinal motor system.
15 Related JoVE Articles!
In Vivo Electrophysiological Measurements on Mouse Sciatic Nerves
Institutions: Fritz Lipmann Institute, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Friedrich Schiller University Jena.
Electrophysiological studies allow a rational classification of various neuromuscular diseases and are of help, together with neuropathological techniques, in the understanding of the underlying pathophysiology1
. Here we describe a method to perform electrophysiological studies on mouse sciatic nerves in vivo
The animals are anesthetized with isoflurane in order to ensure analgesia for the tested mice and undisturbed working environment during the measurements that take about 30 min/animal. A constant body temperature of 37 °C is maintained by a heating plate and continuously measured by a rectal thermo probe2
. Additionally, an electrocardiogram (ECG) is routinely recorded during the measurements in order to continuously monitor the physiological state of the investigated animals.
Electrophysiological recordings are performed on the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve of the peripheral nervous system (PNS), supplying the mouse hind limb with both motoric and sensory fiber tracts. In our protocol, sciatic nerves remain in situ
and therefore do not have to be extracted or exposed, allowing measurements without any adverse nerve irritations along with actual recordings. Using appropriate needle electrodes3
we perform both proximal and distal nerve stimulations, registering the transmitted potentials with sensing electrodes at gastrocnemius muscles. After data processing, reliable and highly consistent values for the nerve conduction velocity (NCV) and the compound motor action potential (CMAP), the key parameters for quantification of gross peripheral nerve functioning, can be achieved.
Neuroscience, Issue 86, Demyelinating Diseases, Neurodegenerative Diseases, electrophysiology, sciatic nerve, mouse, nerve conduction velocity, neuromuscular diseases
Utility of Dissociated Intrinsic Hand Muscle Atrophy in the Diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Institutions: Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Australia.
The split hand
phenomenon refers to predominant wasting of thenar muscles and is an early and specific feature of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A novel split hand index (SI) was developed to quantify the split hand phenomenon, and its diagnostic utility was assessed in ALS patients. The split hand index was derived by dividing the product of the compound muscle action potential (CMAP) amplitude recorded over the abductor pollicis brevis and first dorsal interosseous muscles by the CMAP amplitude recorded over the abductor digiti minimi muscle. In order to assess the diagnostic utility of the split hand index, ALS patients were prospectively assessed and their results were compared to neuromuscular disorder patients. The split hand index was significantly reduced in ALS when compared to neuromuscular disorder patients (P<0.0001). Limb-onset ALS patients exhibited the greatest reduction in the split hand index, and a value of 5.2 or less reliably differentiated ALS from other neuromuscular disorders. Consequently, the split hand index appears to be a novel diagnostic biomarker for ALS, perhaps facilitating an earlier diagnosis.
Medicine, Issue 85, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), dissociated muscle atrophy, hypothenar muscles, motor neuron disease, split-hand index, thenar muscles
Tibial Nerve Transection - A Standardized Model for Denervation-induced Skeletal Muscle Atrophy in Mice
Institutions: St Michaels Hospital, McMaster University.
The tibial nerve transection model is a well-tolerated, validated, and reproducible model of denervation-induced skeletal muscle atrophy in rodents. Although originally developed and used extensively in the rat due to its larger size, the tibial nerve in mice is big enough that it can be easily manipulated with either crush or transection, leaving the peroneal and sural nerve branches of the sciatic nerve intact and thereby preserving their target muscles. Thus, this model offers the advantages of inducing less morbidity and impediment of ambulation than the sciatic nerve transection model and also allows investigators to study the physiologic, cellular and molecular biologic mechanisms regulating the process of muscle atrophy in genetically engineered mice. The tibial nerve supplies the gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris muscles, so its transection permits the study of denervated skeletal muscle composed of fast twitch type II fibers and/or slow twitch type I fibers. Here we demonstrate the tibial nerve transection model in the C57Black6 mouse. We assess the atrophy of the gastrocnemius muscle, as a representative muscle, at 1, 2, and 4 weeks post-denervation by measuring muscle weights and fiber type specific cross-sectional area on paraffin-embedded histologic sections immunostained for fast twitch myosin.
Medicine, Issue 81, mouse, tibial nerve, gastronemius, soleus, atrophy, denervation, reinnervation, myofiber, transection
An In Vitro Adult Mouse Muscle-nerve Preparation for Studying the Firing Properties of Muscle Afferents
Institutions: San José State University, University of Florida, Emory University School of Medicine, San José State University.
Muscle sensory neurons innervating muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs encode length and force changes essential to proprioception. Additional afferent fibers monitor other characteristics of the muscle environment, including metabolite buildup, temperature, and nociceptive stimuli. Overall, abnormal activation of sensory neurons can lead to movement disorders or chronic pain syndromes. We describe the isolation of the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle and nerve for in vitro
study of stretch-evoked afferent responses in the adult mouse. Sensory activity is recorded from the nerve with a suction electrode and individual afferents can be analyzed using spike sorting software. In vitro
preparations allow for well controlled studies on sensory afferents without the potential confounds of anesthesia or altered muscle perfusion. Here we describe a protocol to identify and test the response of muscle spindle afferents to stretch. Importantly, this preparation also supports the study of other subtypes of muscle afferents, response properties following drug application and the incorporation of powerful genetic approaches and disease models in mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, muscle spindle, muscle afferent, extensor digitorum longus, sensory neurons, electrophysiology
Proprioception and Tension Receptors in Crab Limbs: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky, University of Oregon.
The primary purpose of these procedures is to demonstrate for teaching and research purposes how to record the activity of living primary sensory neurons responsible for proprioception as they are detecting joint position and movement, and muscle tension. Electrical activity from crustacean proprioceptors and tension receptors is recorded by basic neurophysiological instrumentation, and a transducer is used to simultaneously measure force that is generated by stimulating a motor nerve. In addition, we demonstrate how to stain the neurons for a quick assessment of their anatomical arrangement or for permanent fixation. Staining reveals anatomical organization that is representative of chordotonal organs in most crustaceans. Comparing the tension nerve responses to the proprioceptive responses is an effective teaching tool in determining how these sensory neurons are defined functionally and how the anatomy is correlated to the function. Three staining techniques are presented allowing researchers and instructors to choose a method that is ideal for their laboratory.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Crustacean, joint, Muscle, sensory, teaching, educational, neuroscience
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
The Swimmeret System of Crayfish: A Practical Guide for the Dissection of the Nerve Cord and Extracellular Recordings of the Motor Pattern
Institutions: University of Cologne.
Here we demonstrate the dissection of the crayfish abdominal nerve cord. The preparation comprises the last two thoracic ganglia (T4, T5) and the chain of abdominal ganglia (A1 to A6). This chain of ganglia includes the part of the central nervous system (CNS) that drives coordinated locomotion of the pleopods (swimmerets): the swimmeret system. It is known for over five decades that in crayfish each swimmeret is driven by its own independent pattern generating kernel that generates rhythmic alternating activity 1-3
. The motor neurons innervating the musculature of each swimmeret comprise two anatomically and functionally distinct populations 4
. One is responsible for the retraction (power stroke, PS) of the swimmeret. The other drives the protraction (return stroke, RS) of the swimmeret. Motor neurons of the swimmeret system are able to produce spontaneously a fictive motor pattern, which is identical to the pattern recorded in vivo 1
The aim of this report is to introduce an interesting and convenient model system for studying rhythm generating networks and coordination of independent microcircuits for students’ practical laboratory courses. The protocol provided includes step-by-step instructions for the dissection of the crayfish’s abdominal nerve cord, pinning of the isolated chain of ganglia, desheathing the ganglia and recording the swimmerets fictive motor pattern extracellularly from the isolated nervous system.
Additionally, we can monitor the activity of swimmeret neurons recorded intracellularly from dendrites. Here we also describe briefly these techniques and provide some examples. Furthermore, the morphology of swimmeret neurons can be assessed using various staining techniques. Here we provide examples of intracellular (by iontophoresis) dye filled neurons and backfills of pools of swimmeret motor neurons. In our lab we use this preparation to study basic functions of fictive locomotion, the effect of sensory feedback on the activity of the CNS, and coordination between microcircuits on a cellular level.
Neurobiology, Issue 93, crustacean, dissection, extracellular recording, fictive locomotion, motor neurons, locomotion
Nerve Excitability Assessment in Chemotherapy-induced Neurotoxicity
Institutions: University of New South Wales , University of New South Wales , University of New South Wales .
Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity is a serious consequence of cancer treatment, which occurs with some of the most commonly used chemotherapies1,2
. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy produces symptoms of numbness and paraesthesia in the limbs and may progress to difficulties with fine motor skills and walking, leading to functional impairment. In addition to producing troubling symptoms, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy may limit treatment success leading to dose reduction or early cessation of treatment. Neuropathic symptoms may persist long-term, leaving permanent nerve damage in patients with an otherwise good prognosis3
. As chemotherapy is utilised more often as a preventative measure, and survival rates increase, the importance of long-lasting and significant neurotoxicity will increase.
There are no established neuroprotective or treatment options and a lack of sensitive assessment methods. Appropriate assessment of neurotoxicity will be critical as a prognostic factor and as suitable endpoints for future trials of neuroprotective agents. Current methods to assess the severity of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy utilise clinician-based grading scales which have been demonstrated to lack sensitivity to change and inter-observer objectivity4
. Conventional nerve conduction studies provide information about compound action potential amplitude and conduction velocity, which are relatively non-specific measures and do not provide insight into ion channel function or resting membrane potential. Accordingly, prior studies have demonstrated that conventional nerve conduction studies are not sensitive to early change in chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity4-6
. In comparison, nerve excitability studies utilize threshold tracking techniques which have been developed to enable assessment of ion channels, pumps and exchangers in vivo
in large myelinated human axons7-9
Nerve excitability techniques have been established as a tool to examine the development and severity of chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity10-13
. Comprising a number of excitability parameters, nerve excitability studies can be used to assess acute neurotoxicity arising immediately following infusion and the development of chronic, cumulative neurotoxicity. Nerve excitability techniques are feasible in the clinical setting, with each test requiring only 5 -10 minutes to complete. Nerve excitability equipment is readily commercially available, and a portable system has been devised so that patients can be tested in situ
in the infusion centre setting. In addition, these techniques can be adapted for use in multiple chemotherapies.
In patients treated with the chemotherapy oxaliplatin, primarily utilised for colorectal cancer, nerve excitability techniques provide a method to identify patients at-risk for neurotoxicity prior to the onset of chronic neuropathy. Nerve excitability studies have revealed the development of an acute Na+
channelopathy in motor and sensory axons10-13
. Importantly, patients who demonstrated changes in excitability in early treatment were subsequently more likely to develop moderate to severe neurotoxicity11
. However, across treatment, striking longitudinal changes were identified only in sensory axons which were able to predict clinical neurological outcome in 80% of patients10
. These changes demonstrated a different pattern to those seen acutely following oxaliplatin infusion, and most likely reflect the development of significant axonal damage and membrane potential change in sensory nerves which develops longitudinally during oxaliplatin treatment10
. Significant abnormalities developed during early treatment, prior to any reduction in conventional measures of nerve function, suggesting that excitability parameters may provide a sensitive biomarker.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Chemotherapy, Neurotoxicity, Neuropathy, Nerve excitability, Ion channel function, Oxaliplatin, oncology, medicine
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
The Spared Nerve Injury (SNI) Model of Induced Mechanical Allodynia in Mice
Institutions: Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen.
Peripheral neuropathic pain is a severe chronic pain condition which may result from trauma to sensory nerves in the peripheral nervous system. The spared nerve injury (SNI) model induces symptoms of neuropathic pain such as mechanical allodynia i.e. pain due to tactile stimuli that do not normally provoke a painful response .
The SNI mouse model involves ligation of two of the three branches of the sciatic nerve (the tibial nerve and the common peroneal nerve), while the sural nerve is left intact . The lesion results in marked hypersensitivity in the lateral area of the paw, which is innervated by the spared sural nerve. The non-operated side of the mouse can be used as a control. The advantages of the SNI model are the robustness of the response and that it doesn’t require expert microsurgical skills.
The threshold for mechanical pain response is determined by testing with von Frey filaments of increasing bending force, which are repetitively pressed against the lateral area of the paw , . A positive pain reaction is defined as sudden paw withdrawal, flinching and/or paw licking induced by the filament. A positive response in three out of five repetitive stimuli is defined as the pain threshold.
As demonstrated in the video protocol, C57BL/6 mice experience profound allodynia as early as the day following surgery and maintain this for several weeks.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, Sciatic, Injury, PNS, Mechanical allodynia, Neuropathic pain, von Frey
In Vivo Canine Muscle Function Assay
Institutions: Wake Forest University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
We describe a minimally-invasive and reproducible method to measure canine pelvic limb muscle strength and muscle response to repeated eccentric
contractions. The pelvic limb of an anesthetized dog is immobilized in a stereotactic frame to align the tibia at a right angle to the femur. Adhesive wrap affixes the
paw to a pedal mounted on the shaft of a servomotor to measure torque. Percutaneous nerve stimulation activates pelvic limb muscles of the paw to either push (extend) or
pull (flex) against the pedal to generate isometric torque. Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation activates tibiotarsal extensor muscles. Repeated eccentric (lengthening)
contractions are induced in the tibiotarsal flexor muscles by percutaneous peroneal nerve stimulation. The eccentric protocol consists of an initial isometric contraction
followed by a forced stretch imposed by the servomotor. The rotation effectively lengthens the muscle while it contracts, e.g., an eccentric
stimulation flexor muscles are subjected to an 800 msec isometric and 200 msec eccentric contraction. This procedure is repeated every 5 sec. To avoid fatigue, 4 min rest
follows every 10 contractions with a total of 30 contractions performed.
Medicine, Issue 50, dog, muscle strength, muscle force, exercise, eccentric contraction, muscle damage, stretch
Modeling Biological Membranes with Circuit Boards and Measuring Electrical Signals in Axons: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
This is a demonstration of how electrical models can be used to characterize biological membranes. This exercise also introduces biophysical terminology used in electrophysiology. The same equipment is used in the membrane model as on live preparations. Some properties of an isolated nerve cord are investigated: nerve action potentials, recruitment of neurons, and responsiveness of the nerve cord to environmental factors.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, Modeling, Student laboratory, Nerve cord
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Combining Peripheral Nerve Grafting and Matrix Modulation to Repair the Injured Rat Spinal Cord
Institutions: Drexel University College of Medicine.
Traumatic injury to the spinal cord (SCI) causes death of neurons, disruption of motor and sensory nerve fiber (axon) pathways and disruption of communication with the brain. One of the goals of our research is to promote axon regeneration to restore connectivity across the lesion site. To accomplish this we developed a peripheral nerve (PN) grafting technique where segments of sciatic nerve are either placed directly between the damaged ends of the spinal cord or are used to form a bridge across the lesion. There are several advantages to this approach compared to transplantation of other neural tissues; regenerating axons can be directed towards a specific target area, the number and source of regenerating axons is easily determined by tracing techniques, the graft can be used for electrophysiological experiments to measure functional recovery associated with axons in the graft, and it is possible to use an autologous nerve to reduce the possibility of graft rejection. In our lab we have performed both autologous (donor and recipient are the same animal) and heterologous (donor and recipient are different animals) grafts with comparable results. This approach has been used successfully in both acute and chronic injury situations. Regenerated axons that reach the distal end of the PN graft often fail to extend back into the spinal cord, so we use microinjections of chondroitinase to degrade inhibitory molecules associated with the scar tissue surrounding the area of SCI. At the same time we have found that providing exogenous growth and trophic molecules encourages longer distance axonal regrowth into the spinal cord. Several months after transplantation we perform a variety of anatomical, behavioral and electrophysiological tests to evaluate the recovery of function in our spinal cord injured animals. This experimental approach has been used successfully in several spinal cord injury models, at different levels of injury and in different species (mouse, rat and cat). Importantly, the peripheral nerve grafting approach is effective in promoting regeneration by acute and chronically injured neurons.
Neurobiology, Issue 33, transplantation, SCI, regeneration, tract tracing, electrophysiology
Electrophysiological Methods for Recording Synaptic Potentials from the NMJ of Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
In this video, we describe the electrophysiological methods for recording synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) of Drosophila larva. The larval neuromuscular system is a model synapse for the study of synaptic physiology and neurotransmission, and is a valuable research tool that has defined genetics and is accessible to experimental manipulation. Larvae can be dissected to expose the body wall musculature, central nervous system, and peripheral nerves. The muscles of Drosophila and their innervation pattern are well characterized and muscles are easy to access for intracellular recording. Individual muscles can be identified by their location and orientation within the 8 abdominal segments, each with 30 muscles arranged in a pattern that is repeated in segments A2 - A7. Dissected drosophila larvae are thin and individual muscles and bundles of motor neuron axons can be visualized by transillumination1
. Transgenic constructs can be used to label target cells for visual identification or for manipulating gene products in specific tissues. In larvae, excitatory junction potentials (EJP’s) are generated in response to vesicular release of glutamate from the motoneurons at the synapse. In dissected larvae, the EJP can be recorded in the muscle with an intracellular electrode. Action potentials can be artificially evoked in motor neurons that have been cut posterior to the ventral ganglion, drawn into a glass pipette by gentle suction and stimulated with an electrode. These motor neurons have distinct firing thresholds when stimulated, and when they fire simultaneously, they generate a response in the muscle. Signals transmitted across the NMJ synapse can be recorded in the muscles that the motor neurons innervate. The EJP’s and minature excitatory junction potentials (mEJP’s) are seen as changes in membrane potential. Electrophysiological responses are recorded at room temperature in modified minimal hemolymph-like solution2
(HL3) that contains 5 mM Mg2+
and 1.5 mM Ca2+
. Changes in the amplitude of evoked EJP’s can indicate differences in synaptic function and structure. Digitized recordings are analyzed for EJP amplitude, mEJP frequency and amplitude, and quantal content.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission, Drosophila larvae, electrophysiology