The role of individual neurons and their function in neuronal circuits is fundamental to understanding the neuronal mechanisms of sensory and motor functions. Most investigations of sensorimotor mechanisms rely on either examination of neurons while an animal is static1,2 or record extracellular neuronal activity during a movement.3,4 While these studies have provided the fundamental background for sensorimotor function, they either do not evaluate functional information which occurs during a movement or are limited in their ability to fully characterize the anatomy, physiology and neurochemical phenotype of the neuron. A technique is shown here which allows extensive characterization of individual neurons during an in vivo movement. This technique can be used not only to study primary afferent neurons but also to characterize motoneurons and sensorimotor interneurons. Initially the response of a single neuron is recorded using electrophysiological methods during various movements of the mandible followed by determination of the receptive field for the neuron. A neuronal tracer is then intracellularly injected into the neuron and the brain is processed so that the neuron can be visualized with light, electron or confocal microscopy (Fig. 1). The detailed morphology of the characterized neuron is then reconstructed so that neuronal morphology can be correlated with the physiological response of the neuron (Figs. 2,3). In this communication important key details and tips for successful implementation of this technique are provided. Valuable additional information can be determined for the neuron under study by combining this method with other techniques. Retrograde neuronal labeling can be used to determine neurons with which the labeled neuron synapses; thus allowing detailed determination of neuronal circuitry. Immunocytochemistry can be combined with this method to examine neurotransmitters within the labeled neuron and to determine the chemical phenotypes of neurons with which the labeled neuron synapses. The labeled neuron can also be processed for electron microscopy to determine the ultrastructural features and microcircuitry of the labeled neuron. Overall this technique is a powerful method to thoroughly characterize neurons during in vivo movement thus allowing substantial insight into the role of the neuron in sensorimotor function.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
An Isolated Semi-intact Preparation of the Mouse Vestibular Sensory Epithelium for Electrophysiology and High-resolution Two-photon Microscopy
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Newcastle.
Understanding vestibular hair cells function under normal conditions, or how trauma, disease, and aging disrupt this function is a vital step in the development of preventative approaches and/or novel therapeutic strategies. However, the majority of studies looking at abnormal vestibular function have not been at the cellular level but focused primarily on behavioral assays of vestibular dysfunction such as gait analyses and vestibulo-ocular reflex performance. While this work has yielded valuable data about what happens when things go wrong, little information is gleaned regarding the underlying causes of dysfunction. Of the studies that focus on the cellular and subcellular processes that underlie vestibular function, most have relied on acutely isolated hair cells, devoid of their synaptic connections and supporting cell environment. Therefore, a major technical challenge has been access to the exquisitely sensitive vestibular hair cells in a preparation that is least disrupted, physiologically. Here we demonstrate a semi-intact preparation of the mouse vestibular sensory epithelium that retains the local micro-environment including hair cell/primary afferent complexes.
Neurobiology, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Vestibular, Hair cells, Epithelium, two-photon microscopy, isolated, semi-intact, electrophysiology, electroporation, microscopy, tissue, isolation, animal model
Identification of Specific Sensory Neuron Populations for Study of Expressed Ion Channels
Institutions: AT Still University of Health Sciences.
Sensory neurons transmit signals from various parts of the body to the central nervous system. The soma for these neurons are located in the dorsal root ganglia that line the spinal column. Understanding the receptors and channels expressed by these sensory afferent neurons could lead to novel therapies for disease. The initial step is to identify the specific subset of sensory neurons of interest. Here we describe a method to identify afferent neurons innervating the muscles by retrograde labeling using a fluorescent dye DiI (1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate). Understanding the contribution of ion channels to excitation of muscle afferents could help to better control excessive excitability induced by certain disease states such as peripheral vascular disease or heart failure. We used two approaches to identify the voltage dependent ion channels expressed by these neurons, patch clamp electrophysiology and immunocytochemistry. While electrophysiology plus pharmacological blockers can identify functional ion channel types, we used immunocytochemistry to identify channels for which specific blockers were unavailable and to better understand the ion channel distribution pattern in the cell population. These techniques can be applied to other areas of the nervous system to study specific neuronal groups.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, DiI, patch clamp, sensory neurons, muscle afferent neurons, immunocytochemistry, electrophysiology
Selective Tracing of Auditory Fibers in the Avian Embryonic Vestibulocochlear Nerve
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
The embryonic chick is a widely used model for the study of peripheral and central ganglion cell projections. In the auditory system, selective labeling of auditory axons within the VIIIth cranial nerve would enhance the study of central auditory circuit development. This approach is challenging because multiple sensory organs of the inner ear contribute to the VIIIth nerve 1
. Moreover, markers that reliably distinguish auditory versus vestibular groups of axons within the avian VIIIth nerve have yet to be identified. Auditory and vestibular pathways cannot be distinguished functionally in early embryos, as sensory-evoked responses are not present before the circuits are formed. Centrally projecting VIIIth nerve axons have been traced in some studies, but auditory axon labeling was accompanied by labeling from other VIIIth nerve components 2,3
. Here, we describe a method for anterograde tracing from the acoustic ganglion to selectively label auditory axons within the developing VIIIth nerve. First, after partial dissection of the anterior cephalic region of an 8-day chick embryo immersed in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid, the cochlear duct is identified by anatomical landmarks. Next, a fine pulled glass micropipette is positioned to inject a small amount of rhodamine dextran amine into the duct and adjacent deep region where the acoustic ganglion cells are located. Within thirty minutes following the injection, auditory axons are traced centrally into the hindbrain and can later be visualized following histologic preparation. This method provides a useful tool for developmental studies of peripheral to central auditory circuit formation.
Neurobiology, Issue 73, Neuroscience, Behavior, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Development, Inner Ear, Cochlea, Auditory, Chick, Axon Tracing, VIIIth Cranial Nerve, nerve, ganglion, fiber, cochlear duct, basilar papilla, embryo, microinjection, animal model
Whole Mount Preparation of the Adult Drosophila Ventral Nerve Cord for Giant Fiber Dye Injection
Institutions: Florida Atlantic University.
To analyze the axonal and dendritic morphology of neurons, it is essential to obtain accurate labeling of neuronal structures. Preparing well labeled samples with little to no tissue damage enables us to analyze cell morphology and to compare individual samples to each other, hence allowing the identification of mutant anomalies.
In the demonstrated dissection method the nervous system remains mostly inside the adult fly. Through a dorsal incision, the abdomen and thorax are opened and most of the internal organs are removed. Only the dorsal side of the ventral nerve cord (VNC) and the cervical connective
(CvC) containing the big axons of the giant fibers (GFs)1
are exposed, while the brain containing the GF cell body and dendrites remains2
intact head. In this preparation most nerves of the VNC should remain attached to their muscles.
Following the dissection, the intracellular filling of the giant fiber (GF) with a fluorescent dye is demonstrated. In the CvC the GF axons are located at the dorsal surface and thus can be easily visualized under a microscope with differential interference contrast (DIC) optics. This allows the injection of the GF axons with dye at this site to label the entire GF including the axons and their terminals in the VNC. This method results in reliable and strong staining of the GFs allowing the neurons to be imaged immediately after filling with an epifluorescent microscope. Alternatively, the fluorescent signal can be enhanced using standard immunohistochemistry procedures3
suitable for high resolution confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, Drosophila, in vivo dissection, giant fiber, ventral nerve cord, dye fill, immunohistochemistry
Intravital Imaging of Axonal Interactions with Microglia and Macrophages in a Mouse Dorsal Column Crush Injury
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Traumatic spinal cord injury causes an inflammatory reaction involving blood-derived macrophages and central nervous system (CNS)-resident microglia. Intra-vital two-photon microscopy enables the study of macrophages and microglia in the spinal cord lesion in the living animal. This can be performed in adult animals with a traumatic injury to the dorsal column. Here, we describe methods for distinguishing macrophages from microglia in the CNS using an irradiation bone marrow chimera to obtain animals in which only macrophages or microglia are labeled with a genetically encoded green fluorescent protein. We also describe a injury model that crushes the dorsal column of the spinal cord, thereby producing a simple, easily accessible, rectangular lesion that is easily visualized in an animal through a laminectomy. Furthermore, we will outline procedures to sequentially image the animals at the anatomical site of injury for the study of cellular interactions during the first few days to weeks after injury.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Intravital, spinal cord crush injury, chimera, microglia, macrophages, dorsal column crush, axonal dieback
Intraspinal Cell Transplantation for Targeting Cervical Ventral Horn in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
Institutions: Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.
Respiratory compromise due to phrenic motor neuron loss is a debilitating consequence of a large proportion of human traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) cases 1
and is the ultimate cause of death in patients with the motor neuron disorder, amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS) 2
ALS is a devastating neurological disorder that is characterized by relatively rapid degeneration of upper and lower motor neurons. Patients ultimately succumb to the disease on average 2-5 years following diagnosis because of respiratory paralysis due to loss of phrenic motor neuron innnervation of the diaphragm 3
. The vast majority of cases are sporadic, while 10% are of the familial form. Approximately twenty percent of familial cases are linked to various point mutations in the Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene on chromosome 21 4
. Transgenic mice 4,5
and rats 6
carrying mutant human SOD1 genes (G93A, G37R, G86R, G85R)
have been generated, and, despite the existence of other animal models of motor neuron loss, are currently the most highly used models of the disease.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a heterogeneous set of conditions resulting from physical trauma to the spinal cord, with functional outcome varying according to the type, location and severity of the injury 7
. Nevertheless, approximately half of human SCI cases affect cervical regions, resulting in debilitating respiratory dysfunction due to phrenic motor neuron loss and injury to descending bulbospinal respiratory axons 1
. A number of animal models of SCI have been developed, with the most commonly used and clinically-relevant being the contusion 8
Transplantation of various classes of neural precursor cells (NPCs) is a promising therapeutic strategy for treatment of traumatic CNS injuries and neurodegeneration, including ALS and SCI, because of the ability to replace lost or dysfunctional CNS cell types, provide neuroprotection, and deliver gene factors of interest 9
Animal models of both ALS and SCI can model many clinically-relevant aspects of these diseases, including phrenic motor neuron loss and consequent respiratory compromise 10,11
. In order to evaluate the efficacy of NPC-based strategies on respiratory function in these animal models of ALS and SCI, cellular interventions must be specifically directed to regions containing therapeutically relevant targets such as phrenic motor neurons. We provide a detailed protocol for multi-segmental, intraspinal transplantation of NPCs into the cervical spinal cord ventral gray matter of neurodegenerative models such as SOD1G93A
mice and rats, as well as spinal cord injured rats and mice 11
Medicine, Issue 55, cell transplantation, engraftment, graft, spinal cord, stem cells, precursors, ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, motor neuron, SCI, spinal cord injury
Promotion of Survival and Differentiation of Neural Stem Cells with Fibrin and Growth Factor Cocktails after Severe Spinal Cord Injury
Institutions: Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Diego, University of California, San Diego.
Neural stem cells (NSCs) can self-renew and differentiate into neurons and glia. Transplanted NSCs can replace lost neurons and glia after spinal cord injury (SCI), and can form functional relays to re-connect spinal cord segments above and below a lesion. Previous studies grafting neural stem cells have been limited by incomplete graft survival within the spinal cord lesion cavity. Further, tracking of graft cell survival, differentiation, and process extension had not been optimized. Finally, in previous studies, cultured rat NSCs were typically reported to differentiate into glia when grafted to the injured spinal cord, rather than neurons, unless fate was driven to a specific cell type. To address these issues, we developed new methods to improve the survival, integration and differentiation of NSCs to sites of even severe SCI. NSCs were freshly isolated from embryonic day 14 spinal cord (E14) from a stable transgenic Fischer 344 rat line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) and were embedded into a fibrin matrix containing growth factors; this formulation aimed to retain grafted cells in the lesion cavity and support cell survival. NSCs in the fibrin/growth factor cocktail were implanted two weeks after thoracic level-3 (T3) complete spinal cord transections, thereby avoiding peak periods of inflammation. Resulting grafts completely filled the lesion cavity and differentiated into both neurons, which extended axons into the host spinal cord over remarkably long distances, and glia. Grafts of cultured human NSCs expressing GFP resulted in similar findings. Thus, methods are defined for improving neural stem cell grafting, survival and analysis of in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 89, nervous system diseases, wounds and injuries, biological factors, therapeutics, surgical procedures, neural stem cells, transplantation, spinal cord injury, fibrin, growth factors
Stereotaxic Injection of a Viral Vector for Conditional Gene Manipulation in the Mouse Spinal Cord
Institutions: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Columbia University , Niigata University Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences.
Intraparenchymal injection of a viral vector enables conditional gene manipulation in distinct populations of neurons or particular regions of the central nervous system. We demonstrate a stereotaxic injection technique that allows targeted gene expression or silencing in the dorsal horn of the mouse spinal cord. The surgical procedure is brief. It requires laminectomy of a single vertebra, providing for quick recovery of the animal and unimpaired motility of the spine. Controlled injection of a small vector suspension volume at low speed and use of a microsyringe with beveled glass cannula minimize the tissue lesion. The local immune response to the vector depends on the intrinsic properties of the virus employed; in our experience, it is minor and short-lived when a recombinant adeno-associated virus is used. A reporter gene such as enhanced green fluorescent protein facilitates monitoring spatial distribution of the vector, and the efficacy and cellular specificity of the transfection.
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Neurobiology, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Virology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Spinal Cord, Stereotaxic Techniques, Genetic Vectors, mouse spinal cord, dorsal horn, stereotaxic injection, viral vector, transgenic, gene expression, transfection, neurons, GFP, immunostaining, animal model
Systemic Injection of Neural Stem/Progenitor Cells in Mice with Chronic EAE
Institutions: University of Cambridge, UK, University of Cambridge, UK.
Neural stem/precursor cells (NPCs) are a promising stem cell source for transplantation approaches aiming at brain repair or restoration in regenerative neurology. This directive has arisen from the extensive evidence that brain repair is achieved after focal or systemic NPC transplantation in several preclinical models of neurological diseases.
These experimental data have identified the cell delivery route as one of the main hurdles of restorative stem cell therapies for brain diseases that requires urgent assessment. Intraparenchymal stem cell grafting represents a logical approach to those pathologies characterized by isolated and accessible brain lesions such as spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, this principle is poorly applicable to conditions characterized by a multifocal, inflammatory and disseminated (both in time and space) nature, including multiple sclerosis (MS). As such, brain targeting by systemic NPC delivery has become a low invasive and therapeutically efficacious protocol to deliver cells to the brain and spinal cord of rodents and nonhuman primates affected by experimental chronic inflammatory damage of the central nervous system (CNS).
This alternative method of cell delivery relies on the NPC pathotropism, specifically their innate capacity to (i) sense the environment via
functional cell adhesion molecules and inflammatory cytokine and chemokine receptors; (ii) cross the leaking anatomical barriers after intravenous (i.v
.) or intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.
) injection; (iii) accumulate at the level of multiple perivascular site(s) of inflammatory brain and spinal cord damage; and (i.v.
) exert remarkable tissue trophic and immune regulatory effects onto different host target cells in vivo
Here we describe the methods that we have developed for the i.v
. and i.c.v.
delivery of syngeneic NPCs in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), as model of chronic CNS inflammatory demyelination, and envisage the systemic stem cell delivery as a valuable technique for the selective targeting of the inflamed brain in regenerative neurology.
Immunology, Issue 86, Somatic neural stem/precursor cells, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, multiple sclerosis, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, systemic delivery, intravenous, intracerebroventricular
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
Simultaneous Recording of Calcium Signals from Identified Neurons and Feeding Behavior of Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School.
To study neuronal networks in terms of their function in behavior, we must analyze how neurons operate when each behavioral pattern is generated. Thus, simultaneous recordings of neuronal activity and behavior are essential to correlate brain activity to behavior. For such behavioral analyses, the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster
, allows us to incorporate genetically encoded calcium indicators such as GCaMP1
, to monitor neuronal activity, and to use sophisticated genetic manipulations for optogenetic or thermogenetic techniques to specifically activate identified neurons2-5
. Use of a thermogenetic technique has led us to find critical neurons for feeding behavior (Flood et al.
, under revision). As a main part of feeding behavior, a Drosophila
adult extends its proboscis for feeding6
(proboscis extension response; PER), responding to a sweet stimulus from sensory cells on its proboscis or tarsi. Combining the protocol for PER7
with a calcium imaging technique8
using GCaMP3.01, 9
, I have established an experimental system, where we can monitor activity of neurons in the feeding center – the suboesophageal ganglion (SOG), simultaneously with behavioral observation of the proboscis. I have designed an apparatus ("Fly brain Live Imaging and Electrophysiology Stage": "FLIES") to accommodate a Drosophila
adult, allowing its proboscis to freely move while its brain is exposed to the bath for Ca2+
imaging through a water immersion lens. The FLIES is also appropriate for many types of live experiments on fly brains such as electrophysiological recording or time lapse imaging of synaptic morphology. Because the results from live imaging can be directly correlated with the simultaneous PER behavior, this methodology can provide an excellent experimental system to study information processing of neuronal networks, and how this cellular activity is coupled to plastic processes and memory.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, feeding, proboscis extension, calcium imaging, Drosophila, fruit fly, GCaMP, suboesophageal ganglion (SOG), live imaging, FLIES
Measuring Spinal Presynaptic Inhibition in Mice By Dorsal Root Potential Recording In Vivo
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany, Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany.
Presynaptic inhibition is one of the most powerful inhibitory mechanisms in the spinal cord. The underlying physiological mechanism is a depolarization of primary afferent fibers mediated by GABAergic axo-axonal synapses (primary afferent depolarization). The strength of primary afferent depolarization can be measured by recording of volume-conducted potentials at the dorsal root (dorsal root potentials, DRP). Pathological changes of presynaptic inhibition are crucial in the abnormal central processing of certain pain conditions and in some disorders of motor hyperexcitability. Here, we describe a method of recording DRP in vivo
in mice. The preparation of spinal cord dorsal roots in the anesthetized animal and the recording procedure using suction electrodes are explained. This method allows measuring GABAergic DRP and thereby estimating spinal presynaptic inhibition in the living mouse. In combination with transgenic mouse models, DRP recording may serve as a powerful tool to investigate disease-associated spinal pathophysiology. In vivo
recording has several advantages compared to ex vivo
isolated spinal cord preparations, e.g.
the possibility of simultaneous recording or manipulation of supraspinal networks and induction of DRP by stimulation of peripheral nerves.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Central Nervous System Diseases, Spinal Cord Diseases, Electrophysiology, dorsal root potentials (DRP), spinal cord, GABA, presynaptic inhibition, primary afferent depolarization (PAD), in vivo electrophysiology
DiI-Labeling of DRG Neurons to Study Axonal Branching in a Whole Mount Preparation of Mouse Embryonic Spinal Cord
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Here we present a technique to label the trajectories of small groups of DRG neurons into the embryonic spinal cord by diffusive staining using the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)1
. The comparison of axonal pathways of wild-type with those of mouse lines in which genes are mutated allows testing for a functional role of candidate proteins in the control of axonal branching which is an essential mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system. Axonal branching enables an individual neuron to connect with multiple targets, thereby providing the physical basis for the parallel processing of information. Ramifications at intermediate target regions of axonal growth may be distinguished from terminal arborization. Furthermore, different modes of axonal branch formation may be classified depending on whether branching results from the activities of the growth cone (splitting or delayed branching) or from the budding of collaterals from the axon shaft in a process called interstitial branching2
The central projections of neurons from the DRG offer a useful experimental system to study both types of axonal branching: when their afferent axons reach the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) of the spinal cord between embryonic days 10 to 13 (E10 - E13) they display a stereotyped pattern of T- or Y-shaped bifurcation. The two resulting daughter axons then proceed in rostral or caudal directions, respectively, at the dorsolateral margin of the cord and only after a waiting period collaterals sprout from these stem axons to penetrate the gray matter (interstitial branching) and project to relay neurons in specific laminae of the spinal cord where they further arborize (terminal branching)3
. DiI tracings have revealed growth cones at the dorsal root entry zone of the spinal cord that appeared to be in the process of splitting suggesting that bifurcation is caused by splitting of the growth cone itself4
), however, other options have been discussed as well5
This video demonstrates first how to dissect the spinal cord of E12.5 mice leaving the DRG attached. Following fixation of the specimen tiny amounts of DiI are applied to DRG using glass needles pulled from capillary tubes. After an incubation step, the labeled spinal cord is mounted as an inverted open-book preparation to analyze individual axons using fluorescence microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, neurons, axonal branching, DRG, Spinal cord, DiI labeling, cGMP signaling
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
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
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
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
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
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
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
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Culture of Isolated Floor Plate Tissue and Production of Conditioned Medium to Assess Functional Properties of Floor Plate-released Signals
Institutions: University of Lyon 1.
During development, progenitors and post-mitotic neurons receive signals from adjacent territories that regulate their fate. The floor-plate is a group of glial cells lining the ependymal canal at ventral position. The floor-plate expresses key morphogens contributing to the patterning of cell lineages in the spinal cord. At later developmental stages, the floor-plate regulates the navigation of axons in the spinal cord, acting as a barrier to prevent the crossing of ipsilateral axons and controlling midline crossing by commissural axons1
. These functions are achieved through the secretion of various guidance cues. Some of these cues act as attractants and repellents for the growing axons while others regulate guidance receptors and downstream signaling to modulate the sensitivity of the axons to the local guidance cues2,3
. Here we describe a method that allows investigating the properties of floor-plate derived signals in a variety of developmental contexts, based on the production of Floor-Plate conditioned medium (FPcm
. We then exemplify the use of this FPcm
in the context of axon guidance. First, the spinal cord is isolated from mouse embryo at E12.5 and the floor-plate is dissected out and cultivated in a plasma-thrombin matrix (Figure 1
). Second two days later, commissural tissue are dissected out from E12.5 embryos, triturated and exposed to the FPcm
. Third, the tissue are processed for Western blot analysis of commissural markers.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Growth Cones, Axons, Embryonic Development, Floor plate, conditioned medium, axon guidance, commissural tissue, biochemistry, receptor levels
Retrograde Loading of Nerves, Tracts, and Spinal Roots with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.
Retrograde labeling of neurons is a standard anatomical method1,2
that has also been used to load calcium and voltage-sensitive dyes into neurons3-6
. Generally, the dyes are applied as solid crystals or by local pressure injection using glass pipettes. However, this can result in dilution of the dye and reduced labeling intensity, particularly when several hours are required for dye diffusion. Here we demonstrate a simple and low-cost technique for introducing fluorescent and ion-sensitive dyes into neurons using a polyethylene suction pipette filled with the dye solution. This method offers a reliable way for maintaining a high concentration of the dye in contact with axons throughout the loading procedure.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Retrograde labeling, Fluorescent dyes, Spinal cord, Nerves, Spinal tracts, Optical imaging, Electrophysiology, Calcium-sensitive dyes