Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve.
The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve
transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous
chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals
through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying short interfering RNAs
(siRNAs), plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 5-7 or injecting vectors into their target, the superior colliculus 8.
This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the desired neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia.
An additional benefit is the ease and accuracy with which cell survival can be quantified after injury. The retina is a flat, layered tissue and RGCs are localized in
the innermost layer, the ganglion cell layer. The survival of RGCs can be tracked over time by applying a fluorescent tracer (3% Fluorogold) to the cut end of the
optic nerve at the time of axotomy, or by injecting the tracer into the superior colliculus (RGC target) one week prior to axotomy. The tracer is retrogradely transported, labeling
the entire RGC population. Because the ganglion cell layer is a monolayer (one cell thick), RGC densities can be quantified in flat-mounted tissue, without the need
for stereology. Optic nerve transection leads to the apoptotic death of 90% of injured RGCs within 14 days postaxotomy 9-11. RGC apoptosis has a
characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a time window for
experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
An Isolated Retinal Preparation to Record Light Response from Genetically Labeled Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The first steps in vertebrate vision take place when light stimulates the rod and cone photoreceptors of the retina 1
. This information is then segregated into what are known as the ON and OFF pathways. The photoreceptors signal light information to the bipolar cells (BCs), which depolarize in response to increases (On BCs) or decreases (Off BCs) in light intensity. This segregation of light information is maintained at the level of the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which have dendrites stratifying in either the Off sublamina of the inner plexiform layer (IPL), where they receive direct excitatory input from Off BCs, or stratifying in the On sublamina of the IPL, where they receive direct excitatory input from On BCs. This segregation of information regarding increases or decreases in illumination (the On and Off pathways) is conserved and signaled to the brain in parallel.
The RGCs are the output cells of the retina, and are thus an important cell to study in order to understand how light information is signaled to visual nuclei in the brain. Advances in mouse genetics over recent decades have resulted in a variety of fluorescent reporter mouse lines where specific RGC populations are labeled with a fluorescent protein to allow for identification of RGC subtypes 2 3 4
and specific targeting for electrophysiological recording. Here, we present a method for recording light responses from fluorescently labeled ganglion cells in an intact, isolated retinal preparation. This isolated retinal preparation allows for recordings from RGCs where the dendritic arbor is intact and the inputs across the entire RGC dendritic arbor are preserved. This method is applicable across a variety of ganglion cell subtypes and is amenable to a wide variety of single-cell physiological techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, isolated, retina, ganglion cell, electrophysiology, patch clamp, transgenic, mouse, fluorescent
Transfection of Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells by in vivo Electroporation
Institutions: Yale University, Baylor College of Medicine.
The targeting and refinement of RGC projections to the midbrain is a popular and powerful model system for studying how precise patterns of neural connectivity form during development. In mice, retinofugal projections are arranged in a topographic manner and form eye-specific layers in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus (dLGN) of the thalamus and the Superior Colliculus (SC). The development of these precise patterns of retinofugal projections has typically been studied by labeling populations of RGCs with fluorescent dyes and tracers, such as horseradish peroxidase1-4
. However, these methods are too coarse to provide insight into developmental changes in individual RGC axonal arbor morphology that are the basis of retinotopic map formation. They also do not allow for the genetic manipulation of RGCs.
Recently, electroporation has become an effective method for providing precise spatial and temporal control for delivery of charged molecules into the retina5-11
. Current retinal electroporation protocols do not allow for genetic manipulation and tracing of retinofugal projections of a single or small cluster of RGCs in postnatal mice. It has been argued that postnatal in vivo
electroporation is not a viable method for transfecting RGCs since the labeling efficiency is extremely low and hence requires targeting at embryonic ages when RGC progenitors are undergoing differentiation and proliferation6
In this video we describe an in vivo
electroporation protocol for targeted delivery of genes, shRNA, and fluorescent dextrans to murine RGCs postnatally. This technique provides a cost effective, fast and relatively easy platform for efficient screening of candidate genes involved in several aspects of neural development including axon retraction, branching, lamination, regeneration and synapse formation at various stages of circuit development. In summary we describe here a valuable tool which will provide further insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying sensory map development.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Retinotopy, Eye Segregation, Superior Colliculus, Lateral Geniculate Nucleus, Visual Development, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retina, Electroporation
A Laser-induced Mouse Model of Chronic Ocular Hypertension to Characterize Visual Defects
Institutions: Northwestern University, Northwestern University.
Glaucoma, frequently associated with elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), is one of the leading causes of blindness. We sought to establish a mouse model of ocular hypertension to mimic human high-tension glaucoma. Here laser illumination is applied to the corneal limbus to photocoagulate the aqueous outflow, inducing angle closure. The changes of IOP are monitored using a rebound tonometer before and after the laser treatment. An optomotor behavioral test is used to measure corresponding changes in visual capacity. The representative result from one mouse which developed sustained IOP elevation after laser illumination is shown. A decreased visual acuity and contrast sensitivity is observed in this ocular hypertensive mouse. Together, our study introduces a valuable model system to investigate neuronal degeneration and the underlying molecular mechanisms in glaucomatous mice.
Medicine, Issue 78, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Ophthalmology, Retinal Neurons, Retinal Neurons, Retinal Ganglion Cells, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Ocular Hypertension, Retinal Degeneration, Vision Tests, Visual Acuity, Eye Diseases, Retinal Ganglion Cell (RGC), Ocular Hypertension, Laser Photocoagulation, Intraocular pressure (IOP), Tonometer; Visual Acuity, Contrast Sensitivity, Optomotor, animal model
A Novel Light Damage Paradigm for Use in Retinal Regeneration Studies in Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Light-induced retinal degeneration (LIRD) is commonly used in both rodents and zebrafish to damage rod and cone photoreceptors. In adult zebrafish, photoreceptor degeneration triggers Müller glial cells to re-enter the cell cycle and produce transient-amplifying progenitors. These progenitors continue to proliferate as they migrate to the damaged area, where they ultimately give rise to new photoreceptors. Currently, there are two widely-used LIRD paradigms, each of which results in varying degrees of photoreceptor loss and corresponding differences in the regeneration response. As more genetic and pharmacological tools are available to test the role of individual genes of interest during regeneration, there is a need to develop a robust LIRD paradigm. Here we describe a LIRD protocol that results in widespread and consistent loss of both rod and cone photoreceptors in which we have combined the use of two previously established LIRD techniques. Furthermore, this protocol can be extended for use in pigmented animals, which eliminates the need to maintain transgenic lines of interest on the albino background for LIRD studies.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Zebrafish, Retinal Degeneration, Retina, Photoreceptor, Müller glia, Light damage
Single-cell Profiling of Developing and Mature Retinal Neurons
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Highly specialized, but exceedingly small populations of cells play important roles in many tissues. The identification of cell-type specific markers and gene expression programs for extremely rare cell subsets has been a challenge using standard whole-tissue approaches. Gene expression profiling of individual cells allows for unprecedented access to cell types that comprise only a small percentage of the total tissue1-7
. In addition, this technique can be used to examine the gene expression programs that are transiently expressed in small numbers of cells during dynamic developmental transitions8
This issue of cellular diversity arises repeatedly in the central nervous system (CNS) where neuronal connections can occur between quite diverse cells9
. The exact number of distinct cell types is not precisely known, but it has been estimated that there may be as many as 1000 different types in the cortex itself10
. The function(s) of complex neural circuits may rely on some of the rare neuronal types and the genes they express. By identifying new markers and helping to molecularly classify different neurons, the single-cell approach is particularly useful in the analysis of cell types in the nervous system. It may also help to elucidate mechanisms of neural development by identifying differentially expressed genes and gene pathways during early stages of neuronal progenitor development.
As a simple, easily accessed tissue with considerable neuronal diversity, the vertebrate retina is an excellent model system for studying the processes of cellular development, neuronal differentiation and neuronal diversification. However, as in other parts of the CNS, this cellular diversity can present a problem for determining the genetic pathways that drive retinal progenitors to adopt a specific cell fate, especially given that rod photoreceptors make up the majority of the total retinal cell population11
. Here we report a method for the identification of the transcripts expressed in single retinal cells (Figure 1
). The single-cell profiling technique allows for the assessment of the amount of heterogeneity present within different cellular populations of the retina2,4,5,12
. In addition, this method has revealed a host of new candidate genes that may play role(s) in the cell fate decision-making processes that occur in subsets of retinal progenitor cells8
. With some simple adjustments to the protocol, this technique can be utilized for many different tissues and cell types.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Single-cells, transcriptomics, gene expression, cell-type markers, retina, neurons, genetics
In vivo Electroporation of Morpholinos into the Adult Zebrafish Retina
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame , University of Notre Dame .
Many devastating inherited eye diseases result in progressive and irreversible blindness because humans cannot regenerate dying or diseased retinal neurons. In contrast, the adult zebrafish retina possesses the robust ability to spontaneously regenerate any neuronal class that is lost in a variety of different retinal damage models, including retinal puncture, chemical ablation, concentrated high temperature, and intense light treatment 1-8
. Our lab extensively characterized regeneration of photoreceptors following constant intense light treatment and inner retinal neurons after intravitreal ouabain injection 2, 5, 9
. In all cases, resident Müller glia re-enter the cell cycle to produce neuronal progenitors, which continue to proliferate and migrate to the proper retinal layer, where they differentiate into the deficient neurons.
We characterized five different stages during regeneration of the light-damaged retina that were highlighted by specific cellular responses. We identified several differentially expressed genes at each stage of retinal regeneration by mRNA microarray analysis 10
. Many of these genes are also critical for ocular development. To test the role of each candidate gene/protein during retinal regeneration, we needed to develop a method to conditionally limit the expression of a candidate protein only at times during regeneration of the adult retina.
Morpholino oligos are widely used to study loss of function of specific proteins during the development of zebrafish, Xenopus
, chick, mouse, and tumors in human xenografts 11-14
. These modified oligos basepair with complementary RNA sequence to either block the splicing or translation of the target RNA. Morpholinos are stable in the cell and can eliminate or "knockdown" protein expression for three to five days 12
Here, we describe a method to efficiently knockdown target protein expression in the adult zebrafish retina. This method employs lissamine-tagged antisense morpholinos that are injected into the vitreous of the adult zebrafish eye. Using electrode forceps, the morpholino is then electroporated into all the cell types of the dorsal and central retina. Lissamine provides the charge on the morpholino for electroporation and can be visualized to assess the presence of the morpholino in the retinal cells.
Conditional knockdown in the retina can be used to examine the role of specific proteins at different times during regeneration. Additionally, this approach can be used to study the role of specific proteins in the undamaged retina, in such processes as visual transduction and visual processing in second order neurons.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Electroporation, morpholino, zebrafish, retina, regeneration
Techniques for Processing Eyes Implanted With a Retinal Prosthesis for Localized Histopathological Analysis
Institutions: Bionics Institute, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne.
With the recent development of retinal prostheses, it is important to develop reliable techniques for assessing the safety of these devices in preclinical studies. However, the standard fixation, preparation, and automated histology procedures are not ideal. Here we describe new procedures for evaluating the health of the retina directly adjacent to an implant. Retinal prostheses feature electrode arrays in contact with eye tissue. Previous methods have not been able to spatially localize the ocular tissue adjacent to individual electrodes within the array. In addition, standard histological processing often results in gross artifactual detachment of the retinal layers when assessing implanted eyes. Consequently, it has been difficult to assess localized damage, if present, caused by implantation and stimulation of an implanted electrode array. Therefore, we developed a method for identifying and localizing the ocular tissue adjacent to implanted electrodes using a (color-coded) dye marking scheme, and we modified an eye fixation technique to minimize artifactual retinal detachment. This method also rendered the sclera translucent, enabling localization of individual electrodes and specific parts of an implant. Finally, we used a matched control to increase the power of the histopathological assessments. In summary, this method enables reliable and efficient discrimination and assessment of the retinal cytoarchitecture in an implanted eye.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Surgery, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Tissue Engineering, Prosthesis Implantation, Implantable Neurostimulators, Implants, Experimental, Histology, bionics, Retina, Prosthesis, Bionic Eye, Retinal, Implant, Suprachoroidal, Fixation, Localization, Safety, Preclinical, dissection, embedding, staining, tissue, surgical techniques, clinical techniques
Assessment of Vascular Regeneration in the CNS Using the Mouse Retina
Institutions: McGill University, University of Montréal, University of Montréal.
The rodent retina is perhaps the most accessible mammalian system in which to investigate neurovascular interplay within the central nervous system (CNS). It is increasingly being recognized that several neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis present elements of vascular compromise. In addition, the most prominent causes of blindness in pediatric and working age populations (retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic retinopathy, respectively) are characterized by vascular degeneration and failure of physiological vascular regrowth. The aim of this technical paper is to provide a detailed protocol to study CNS vascular regeneration in the retina. The method can be employed to elucidate molecular mechanisms that lead to failure of vascular growth after ischemic injury. In addition, potential therapeutic modalities to accelerate and restore healthy vascular plexuses can be explored. Findings obtained using the described approach may provide therapeutic avenues for ischemic retinopathies such as that of diabetes or prematurity and possibly benefit other vascular disorders of the CNS.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, vascular regeneration, angiogenesis, vessels, retina, neurons, oxygen-induced retinopathy, neovascularization, CNS
Methylnitrosourea (MNU)-induced Retinal Degeneration and Regeneration in the Zebrafish: Histological and Functional Characteristics
Institutions: University of Bern, University Hospital of Basel, University of Fribourg.
Retinal degenerative diseases, e.g.
retinitis pigmentosa, with resulting photoreceptor damage account for the majority of vision loss in the industrial world. Animal models are of pivotal importance to study such diseases. In this regard the photoreceptor-specific toxin N
-nitrosourea (MNU) has been widely used in rodents to pharmacologically induce retinal degeneration. Previously, we have established a MNU-induced retinal degeneration model in the zebrafish, another popular model system in visual research.
A fascinating difference to mammals is the persistent neurogenesis in the adult zebrafish retina and its regeneration after damage. To quantify this observation we have employed visual acuity measurements in the adult zebrafish. Thereby, the optokinetic reflex was used to follow functional changes in non-anesthetized fish. This was supplemented with histology as well as immunohistochemical staining for apoptosis (TUNEL) and proliferation (PCNA) to correlate the developing morphological changes.
In summary, apoptosis of photoreceptors occurs three days after MNU treatment, which is followed by a marked reduction of cells in the outer nuclear layer (ONL). Thereafter, proliferation of cells in the inner nuclear layer (INL) and ONL is observed. Herein, we reveal that not only a complete histological but also a functional regeneration occurs over a time course of 30 days. Now we illustrate the methods to quantify and follow up zebrafish retinal de- and regeneration using MNU in a video-format.
Cellular Biology, Issue 92,
N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU), retina, degeneration, photoreceptors, Müller cells, regeneration, zebrafish, visual function
Morphometric Analyses of Retinal Sections
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong.
Morphometric analyses of retinal sections have been used in examining retinal diseases. For examples, neuronal cells were significantly lost in the retinal ganglion cell layer (RGCL) in rat models with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)–induced excitotoxicity1
, retinal ischemia-reperfusion injury2
. Reduction of INL and inner plexiform layer (IPL) thicknesses were reversed with citicoline treatment in rats' eyes subjected to kainic acid-mediated glutamate excitotoxicity4
. Alteration of RGC density and soma sizes were observed with different drug treatments in eyes with elevated intraocular pressure3,5,6
. Therefore, having objective methods of analyzing the retinal morphometries may be of great significance in evaluating retinal pathologies and the effectiveness of therapeutic strategies.
The retinal structure is multi-layers and several different kinds of neurons exist in the retina. The morphometric parameters of retina such as cell number, cell size and thickness of different layers are more complex than the cell culture system. Early on, these parameters can be detected using other commercial imaging software. The values are normally of relative value, and changing to the precise value may need further accurate calculation. Also, the tracing of the cell size and morphology may not be accurate and sensitive enough for statistic analysis, especially in the chronic glaucoma model. The measurements used in this protocol provided a more precise and easy way. And the absolute length of the line and size of the cell can be reported directly and easy to be copied to other files. For example, we traced the margin of the inner and outer most nuclei in the INL and formed a line then using the software to draw a 90 degree angle to measure the thickness. While without the help of the software, the line maybe oblique and the changing of retinal thickness may not be repeatable among individual observers. In addition, the number and density of RGCs can also be quantified. This protocol successfully decreases the variability in quantitating features of the retina, increases the sensitivity in detecting minimal changes.
This video will demonstrate three types of morphometric analyses of the retinal sections. They include measuring the INL thickness, quantifying the number of RGCs and measuring the sizes of RGCs in absolute value. These three analyses are carried out with Stereo Investigator (MBF Bioscience — MicroBrightField, Inc.). The technique can offer a simple but scientific platform for morphometric analyses.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, morphometric analysis, retina, thickness, cell size, Stereo Investigator, neuroscience
Dissection, Culture, and Analysis of Xenopus laevis Embryonic Retinal Tissue
Institutions: College of William and Mary.
The process by which the anterior region of the neural plate gives rise to the vertebrate retina continues to be a major focus of both clinical and basic research. In addition to the obvious medical relevance for understanding and treating retinal disease, the development of the vertebrate retina continues to serve as an important and elegant model system for understanding neuronal cell type determination and differentiation1-16
. The neural retina consists of six discrete cell types (ganglion, amacrine, horizontal, photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and Müller glial cells) arranged in stereotypical layers, a pattern that is largely conserved among all vertebrates 12,14-18
While studying the retina in the intact developing embryo is clearly required for understanding how this complex organ develops from a protrusion of the forebrain into a layered structure, there are many questions that benefit from employing approaches using primary cell culture of presumptive retinal cells 7,19-23
. For example, analyzing cells from tissues removed and dissociated at different stages allows one to discern the state of specification of individual cells at different developmental stages, that is, the fate of the cells in the absence of interactions with neighboring tissues 8,19-22,24-33
. Primary cell culture also allows the investigator to treat the culture with specific reagents and analyze the results on a single cell level 5,8,21,24,27-30,33-39
. Xenopus laevis,
a classic model system for the study of early neural development 19,27,29,31-32,40-42
, serves as a particularly suitable system for retinal primary cell culture 10,38,43-45
Presumptive retinal tissue is accessible from the earliest stages of development, immediately following neural induction 25,38,43
. In addition, given that each cell in the embryo contains a supply of yolk, retinal cells can be cultured in a very simple defined media consisting of a buffered salt solution, thus removing the confounding effects of incubation or other sera-based products 10,24,44-45
However, the isolation of the retinal tissue from surrounding tissues and the subsequent processing is challenging. Here, we present a method for the dissection and dissociation of retinal cells in Xenopus laevis
that will be used to prepare primary cell cultures that will, in turn, be analyzed for calcium activity and gene expression at the resolution of single cells. While the topic presented in this paper is the analysis of spontaneous calcium transients, the technique is broadly applicable to a wide array of research questions and approaches (Figure 1
Developmental Biology, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Surgery, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, retina, primary cell culture, dissection, confocal microscopy, calcium imaging, fluorescent in situ hybridization, FISH, Xenopus laevis, animal model
Methods for Experimental Manipulations after Optic Nerve Transection in the Mammalian CNS
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve. The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Viral vectors, plasmids or short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) can also be delivered to the vitreous chamber in order to infect or transfect retinal cells 5-12
. The high tropism of Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) vectors is beneficial to target RGCs, with an infection rate approaching 90% of cells near the injection site 6, 7, 13-15
. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying siRNAs, plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 16-19
or injecting vectors into their target the superior colliculus 10
. This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the injured neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia. RGC apoptosis has a characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a window for experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis. Manipulations that directly target RGCs from the transected optic nerve stump are performed at the time of axotomy, immediately after cutting the nerve. In contrast, when substances are delivered via an intraocular route, they can be injected prior to surgery or within the first 3 days after surgery, preceding the initiation of apoptosis in axotomized RGCs. In the present article, we demonstrate several methods for experimental manipulations after optic nerve transection.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Intraocular Injection, Nerve Stump Transfection, Viral Vector, Short Interfering RNA
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells in Adult Zebrafish with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University of Science and Technology of China.
As retrograde labeling retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) can isolate RGCs somata from dying sites, it has become the gold standard for counting RGCs in RGCs survival and regeneration experiments. Many studies have been performed in mammalian animals to research RGCs survival after optic nerve injury. However, retrograde labeling of RGCs in adult zebrafish has not yet been reported, though some alternative methods can count cell numbers in retinal ganglion cell layers (RGCL). Considering the small size of the adult zebrafish skull and the high risk of death after drilling on the skull, we open the skull with the help of acid-etching and seal the hole with a light curing bond, which could significantly improve the survival rate. After absorbing the dyes for 5 days, almost all the RGCs are labeled. As this method does not need to transect the optic nerve, it is irreplaceable in the research of RGCs survival after optic nerve crush in adult zebrafish. Here, we introduce this method step by step and provide representative results.
Neuroscience, Issue 87,
Adult Zebrafish, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retrograde Labeling, DiI
An Optic Nerve Crush Injury Murine Model to Study Retinal Ganglion Cell Survival
Institutions: NIH, The Second Hospital of Harbin Medical University.
Injury to the optic nerve can lead to axonal degeneration, followed by a gradual death of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which results in irreversible vision loss. Examples of such diseases in human include traumatic optic neuropathy and optic nerve degeneration in glaucoma. It is characterized by typical changes in the optic nerve head, progressive optic nerve degeneration, and loss of retinal ganglion cells, if uncontrolled, leading to vision loss and blindness.
The optic nerve crush (ONC) injury mouse model is an important experimental disease model for traumatic optic neuropathy, glaucoma, etc. In this model, the crush injury to the optic nerve leads to gradual retinal ganglion cells apoptosis. This disease model can be used to study the general processes and mechanisms of neuronal death and survival, which is essential for the development of therapeutic measures. In addition, pharmacological and molecular approaches can be used in this model to identify and test potential therapeutic reagents to treat different types of optic neuropathy.
Here, we provide a step by step demonstration of (I) Baseline retrograde labeling of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) at day 1, (II) Optic nerve crush injury at day 4, (III) Harvest the retinae and analyze RGC survival at day 11, and (IV) Representative result.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, optic nerve crush injury, retinal ganglion cell, glaucoma, optic neuropathy, retrograde labeling
In utero and ex vivo Electroporation for Gene Expression in Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The retina and its sole output neuron, the retinal ganglion cell (RGC), comprise an excellent model in which to examine biological questions such as cell differentiation, axon guidance, retinotopic organization and synapse formation. One drawback is the inability to efficiently and reliably manipulate gene expression in RGCs in vivo
, especially in the otherwise accessible murine visual pathways. Transgenic mice can be used to manipulate gene expression, but this approach is often expensive, time consuming, and can produce unwanted side effects. In chick, in ovo electroporation is used to manipulate gene expression in RGCs for examining retina and RGC development. Although similar electroporation techniques have been developed in neonatal mouse pups, adult rats, and embryonic murine retinae in vitro
, none of these strategies allow full characterization of RGC development and axon projections in vivo
. To this end, we have developed two applications of electroporation, one in utero
and the other ex vivo
, to specifically target embryonic murine RGCs[5, 6].
With in utero
retinal electroporation, we can misexpress or downregulate specific genes in RGCs and follow their axon projections through the visual pathways in vivo
, allowing examination of guidance decisions at intermediate targets, such as the optic chiasm, or at target regions, such as the lateral geniculate nucleus. Perturbing gene expression in a subset of RGCs in an otherwise wild-type background facilitates an understanding of gene function throughout the retinal pathway. Additionally, we have developed a companion technique for analyzing RGC axon growth in vitro
. We electroporate embryonic heads ex vivo, collect and incubate the whole retina, then prepare explants from these retinae several days later. Retinal explants can be used in a variety of in vitro assays in order to examine the response of electroporated RGC axons to guidance cues or other factors. In sum, this set of techniques enhances our ability to misexpress or downregulate genes in RGCs and should greatly aid studies examining RGC development and axon projections.
Neuroscience, Developmental Biology, Issue 31, retinal ganglion cells, electroporation, retinal explants, gene transfection, border assays, in utero, ex vivo
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
Immunohistochemical and Calcium Imaging Methods in Wholemount Rat Retina
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles, Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Dalhousie University, University of California, Los Angeles.
In this paper we describe the tools, reagents, and the practical steps that are needed for: 1) successful preparation of wholemount retinas for immunohistochemistry and, 2) calcium imaging for the study of voltage gated calcium channel (VGCC) mediated calcium signaling in retinal ganglion cells. The calcium imaging method we describe circumvents issues concerning non-specific loading of displaced amacrine cells in the ganglion cell layer.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, immunohistochemistry, antibody, fluo-4, calcium imaging, ganglion cells, retina, rat
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
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, email@example.com) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells by Application of Fluoro-Gold on the Surface of Superior Colliculus
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong - HKU.
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) counting is essential to evaluate retinal degeneration especially in glaucoma. Reliable RGC labeling is fundamental for evaluating the effects of any treatment. In rat, about 98% of RGCs is known to project to the contralateral superior colliculus (SC) (Forrester and Peters, 1967). Applying fluoro-gold (FG) on the surface of SC can label almost all the RGCs, so that we can focus on this most vulnerable retinal neuron in glaucoma. FG is taken up by the axon terminals of retinal ganglion cells and bilaterally transported retrogradely to its somas in the retina. Compare with retrograde labeling of RGC by putting FG at stump of transected optic nerve for 2 days, the interference of RGC survival is minimized. Compare with cresyl violet staining that stains RGCs, amacrine cells and endothelium of the blood vessel in the retinal ganglion cell layer, this labeling method is more specific to the RGC. This video describes the method of retrograde labeling of RGC by applying FG on the surface of SC. The surgical procedures include drilling the skull; aspirating the cortex to expose the SC and applying gelatin sponge over entire dorsal surface of SC are shown. Useful tips for avoiding massive intracranial bleeding and aspiration of the SC have been given.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, Retrograde labeling, retinal ganglion cells, ophthalmology research, superior colliculus, experimental glaucoma