Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Visualization of Vascular Ca2+ Signaling Triggered by Paracrine Derived ROS
Institutions: Temple University , University of Washington.
Oxidative stress has been implicated in a number of pathologic conditions including ischemia/reperfusion damage and sepsis. The concept of oxidative stress refers to the aberrant formation of ROS (reactive oxygen species), which include O2•-
, and hydroxyl radicals. Reactive oxygen species influences a multitude of cellular processes including signal transduction, cell proliferation and cell death1-6
. ROS have the potential to damage vascular and organ cells directly, and can initiate secondary chemical reactions and genetic alterations that ultimately result in an amplification of the initial ROS-mediated tissue damage. A key component of the amplification cascade that exacerbates irreversible tissue damage is the recruitment and activation of circulating inflammatory cells. During inflammation, inflammatory cells produce cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) and IL-1 that activate endothelial cells (EC) and epithelial cells and further augment the inflammatory response7
. Vascular endothelial dysfunction is an established feature of acute inflammation. Macrophages contribute to endothelial dysfunction during inflammation by mechanisms that remain unclear. Activation of macrophages results in the extracellular release of O2•-
and various pro-inflammatory cytokines, which triggers pathologic signaling in adjacent cells8
. NADPH oxidases are the major and primary source of ROS in most of the cell types. Recently, it is shown by us and others9,10
that ROS produced by NADPH oxidases induce the mitochondrial ROS production during many pathophysiological conditions. Hence measuring the mitochondrial ROS production is equally important in addition to measuring cytosolic ROS. Macrophages produce ROS by the flavoprotein enzyme NADPH oxidase which plays a primary role in inflammation. Once activated, phagocytic NADPH oxidase produces copious amounts of O2•-
that are important in the host defense mechanism11,12
. Although paracrine-derived O2•-
plays an important role in the pathogenesis of vascular diseases, visualization of paracrine ROS-induced intracellular signaling including Ca2+
mobilization is still hypothesis. We have developed a model in which activated macrophages are used as a source of O2•-
to transduce a signal to adjacent endothelial cells. Using this model we demonstrate that macrophage-derived O2•-
lead to calcium signaling in adjacent endothelial cells.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, Reactive oxygen species, Calcium, paracrine superoxide, endothelial cells, confocal microscopy
Study Glial Cell Heterogeneity Influence on Axon Growth Using a New Coculture Method
Institutions: Cedars Sinai Medical Center, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical University, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical Univeristy.
In the central nervous system of all mammals, severed axons after injury are unable to regenerate to their original targets and functional recovery is very poor 1
. The failure of axon regeneration is a combined result of several factors including the hostile glial cell environment, inhibitory myelin related molecules and decreased intrinsic neuron regenerative capacity 2
. Astrocytes are the most predominant glial cell type in central nervous system and play important role in axon functions under physiology and pathology conditions 3
. Contrast to the homologous oligodendrocytes, astrocytes are a heterogeneous cell population composed by different astrocyte subpopulations with diverse morphologies and gene expression 4
. The functional significance of this heterogeneity, such as their influences on axon growth, is largely unknown.
To study the glial cell, especially the function of astrocyte heterogeneity in neuron behavior, we established a new method by co-culturing high purified dorsal root ganglia neurons with glial cells obtained from the rat cortex. By this technique, we were able to directly compare neuron adhesion and axon growth on different astrocytes subpopulations under the same condition.
In this report, we give the detailed protocol of this method for astrocytes isolation and culture, dorsal root ganglia neurons isolation and purification, and the co-culture of DRG neurons with astrocytes. This method could also be extended to other brain regions to study cellular or regional specific interaction between neurons and glial cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, Dorsal root ganglia, glial cell, heterogeneity, co-culture, regeneration, axon growth
Preparation of Living Isolated Vertebrate Photoreceptor Cells for Fluorescence Imaging
Institutions: Medical University of South Carolina.
In the vertebrate retina, phototransduction, the conversion of light to an electrical signal, is carried out by the rod and cone photoreceptor cells1-4
. Rod photoreceptors are responsible for vision in dim light, cones in bright light. Phototransduction takes place in the outer segment of the photoreceptor cell, a specialized compartment that contains a high concentration of visual pigment, the primary light detector. The visual pigment is composed of a chromophore, 11-cis
retinal, attached to a protein, opsin. A photon absorbed by the visual pigment isomerizes the chromophore from 11-cis
. This photoisomerization brings about a conformational change in the visual pigment that
initiates a cascade of reactions culminating in a change in membrane potential, and bringing about the transduction of the light stimulus to an electrical signal. The
recovery of the cell from light stimulation involves the deactivation of the intermediates activated by light, and the reestablishment of the membrane potential. Ca2+
modulates the activity of several of the enzymes involved in phototransduction, and its concentration is reduced upon light stimulation. In this way, Ca2+
plays an important role in the recovery of the cell from light stimulation and its adaptation to background light.
Another essential part of the recovery process is the regeneration of the visual pigment that has been destroyed during light-detection by the
photoisomerization of its 11-cis
chromophore to all-trans5-7
. This regeneration begins with the release of all-trans
the photoactivated pigment, leaving behind the apo-protein opsin. The released all-trans
retinal is rapidly reduced in a reaction utilizing NADPH to all-
retinol, and opsin combines with fresh 11-cis
retinal brought into the outer segment to reform the visual pigment. All-trans
then transferred out of the outer segment and into neighboring cells by the specialized carrier Interphotoreceptor Retinoid Binding Protein (IRBP).
Fluorescence imaging of single photoreceptor cells can be used to study their physiology and cell biology. Ca2+
-sensitive fluorescent dyes can be used to examine in detail the interplay between outer
changes and response to light8-12
as well as the role of inner segment Ca2+
stores in Ca2+
Fluorescent dyes can also be used for measuring Mg2+
, pH, and as tracers of aqueous and membrane compartments16
Finally, the intrinsic fluorescence of all-trans
retinol (vitamin A) can be used to monitor the kinetics of its formation and removal in single
Neuroscience, Issue 52, retina, rods, cones, vision, fluorescence
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
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
Use of pHluorin to Assess the Dynamics of Axon Guidance Receptors in Cell Culture and in the Chick Embryo
Institutions: University of Lyon.
axon guidance receptors play a crucial role in regulating axons sensitivity to both attractive and repulsive cues. Indeed, activation of the guidance receptors is the first step of the signaling mechanisms allowing axon tips, the growth cones, to respond to the ligands. As such, the modulation of their availability at the cell surface is one of the mechanisms that participate in setting the growth cone sensitivity. We describe here a method to precisely visualize the spatio-temporal cell surface dynamics of an axon guidance receptor both in vitro
and in vivo
in the developing chick spinal cord. We took advantage of the pH-dependent fluorescence property of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) variant to specifically detect the fraction of the axon guidance receptor that is addressed to the plasma membrane. We first describe the in vitro
validation of such pH-dependent constructs and we further detail their use in vivo
, in the chick spinal chord, to assess the spatio-temporal dynamics of the axon guidance receptor of interest.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Neurons, Axons, Cell Differentiation, Embryonic Development, Life Sciences (General), Axon guidance receptor, trafficking, pHluorin, in ovo electroporation, commissural neurons, Plexin,
Genetic Study of Axon Regeneration with Cultured Adult Dorsal Root Ganglion Neurons
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
It is well known that mature neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) cannot regenerate their axons after injuries due to diminished intrinsic ability to support axon growth and a hostile environment in the mature CNS1,2
. In contrast, mature neurons in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) regenerate readily after injuries3
. Adult dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons are well known to regenerate robustly after peripheral nerve injuries. Each DRG neuron grows one axon from the cell soma, which branches into two axonal branches: a peripheral branch innervating peripheral targets and a central branch extending into the spinal cord. Injury of the DRG peripheral axons results in substantial axon regeneration, whereas central axons in the spinal cord regenerate poorly after the injury. However, if the peripheral axonal injury occurs prior to the spinal cord injury (a process called the conditioning lesion), regeneration of central axons is greatly improved4
. Moreover, the central axons of DRG neurons share the same hostile environment as descending corticospinal axons in the spinal cord. Together, it is hypothesized that the molecular mechanisms controlling axon regeneration of adult DRG neurons can be harnessed to enhance CNS axon regeneration. As a result, adult DRG neurons are now widely used as a model system to study regenerative axon growth5-7
Here we describe a method of adult DRG neuron culture that can be used for genetic study of axon regeneration in vitro
. In this model adult DRG neurons are genetically manipulated via electroporation-mediated gene transfection6,8
. By transfecting neurons with DNA plasmid or si/shRNA, this approach enables both gain- and loss-of-function experiments to investigate the role of any gene-of-interest in axon growth from adult DRG neurons. When neurons are transfected with si/shRNA, the targeted endogenous protein is usually depleted after 3-4 days in culture, during which time robust axon growth has already occurred, making the loss-of-function studies less effective. To solve this problem, the method described here includes a re-suspension and re-plating step after transfection, which allows axons to re-grow from neurons in the absence of the targeted protein. Finally, we provide an example of using this in vitro
model to study the role of an axon regeneration-associated gene, c-Jun, in mediating axon growth from adult DRG neurons9
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Physiology, Developmental Biology, cell culture, axon regeneration, axon growth, dorsal root ganglion, spinal cord injury
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
Production and Isolation of Axons from Sensory Neurons for Biochemical Analysis Using Porous Filters
Institutions: Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.
Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, neuron, axon, filter inserts, culture system, dorsal root ganglion, axonal degeneration
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
Live Cell Calcium Imaging Combined with siRNA Mediated Gene Silencing Identifies Ca2+ Leak Channels in the ER Membrane and their Regulatory Mechanisms
Institutions: Saarland University, Saarland University.
In mammalian cells, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) plays a key role in protein biogenesis as well as in calcium signalling1
. The heterotrimeric Sec61 complex in the ER membrane provides an aqueous path for newly-synthesized polypeptides into the lumen of the ER. Recent work from various laboratories suggested that this heterotrimeric complex may also form transient Ca2+
. The key observation for this notion was that release of nascent polypeptides from the ribosome and Sec61 complex by puromycin leads to transient release of Ca2+
from the ER. Furthermore, it had been observed in vitro
that the ER luminal protein BiP is involved in preventing ion permeability at the level of the Sec61 complex9,10
. We have established an experimental system that allows us to directly address the role of the Sec61 complex as potential Ca2+
leak channel and to characterize its putative regulatory mechanisms11-13
. This system combines siRNA mediated gene silencing and live cell Ca2+
. Cells are treated with siRNAs that are directed against the coding and untranslated region (UTR), respectively, of the SEC61A1
gene or a negative control siRNA. In complementation analysis, the cells are co-transfected with an IRES-GFP vector that allows the siRNA-resistant expression of the wildtype SEC61A1
gene. Then the cells are loaded with the ratiometric Ca2+
-indicator FURA-2 to monitor simultaneously changes in the cytosolic Ca2+
concentration in a number of cells via a fluorescence microscope. The continuous measurement of cytosolic Ca2+
also allows the evaluation of the impact of various agents, such as puromycin, small molecule inhibitors, and thapsigargin on Ca2+
leakage. This experimental system gives us the unique opportunities to i) evaluate the contribution of different ER membrane proteins to passive Ca2+
efflux from the ER in various cell types, ii) characterize the proteins and mechanisms that limit this passive Ca2+
efflux, and iii) study the effects of disease linked mutations in the relevant components.
Cell Biology, Issue 53, Cellular calcium homeostasis, calmodulin, complementation, endoplasmic reticulum, ER calcium leakage, gene silencing, IQ motif, mutant analysis, Sec61 complex
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
Expression, Isolation, and Purification of Soluble and Insoluble Biotinylated Proteins for Nerve Tissue Regeneration
Institutions: University of Akron.
Recombinant protein engineering has utilized Escherichia coli (E. coli)
expression systems for nearly 4 decades, and today E. coli
is still the most widely used host organism. The flexibility of the system allows for the addition of moieties such as a biotin tag (for streptavidin interactions) and larger functional proteins like green fluorescent protein or cherry red protein. Also, the integration of unnatural amino acids like metal ion chelators, uniquely reactive functional groups, spectroscopic probes, and molecules imparting post-translational modifications has enabled better manipulation of protein properties and functionalities. As a result this technique creates customizable fusion proteins that offer significant utility for various fields of research. More specifically, the biotinylatable protein sequence has been incorporated into many target proteins because of the high affinity interaction between biotin with avidin and streptavidin. This addition has aided in enhancing detection and purification of tagged proteins as well as opening the way for secondary applications such as cell sorting. Thus, biotin-labeled molecules show an increasing and widespread influence in bioindustrial and biomedical fields. For the purpose of our research we have engineered recombinant biotinylated fusion proteins containing nerve growth factor (NGF) and semaphorin3A (Sema3A) functional regions. We have reported previously how these biotinylated fusion proteins, along with other active protein sequences, can be tethered to biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative purposes. This protocol outlines the basics of engineering biotinylatable proteins at the milligram scale, utilizing a T7 lac
inducible vector and E. coli
expression hosts, starting from transformation to scale-up and purification.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, protein engineering, recombinant protein production, AviTag, BirA, biotinylation, pET vector system, E. coli, inclusion bodies, Ni-NTA, size exclusion chromatography
Simultaneous Electrophysiological Recording and Calcium Imaging of Suprachiasmatic Nucleus Neurons
Institutions: Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Health & Science University.
Simultaneous electrophysiological and fluorescent imaging recording methods were used to study the role of changes of membrane potential or current in regulating the intracellular calcium concentration. Changing environmental conditions, such as the light-dark cycle, can modify neuronal and neural network activity and the expression of a family of circadian clock genes within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the location of the master circadian clock in the mammalian brain. Excitatory synaptic transmission leads to an increase in the postsynaptic Ca2+
concentration that is believed to activate the signaling pathways that shifts the rhythmic expression of circadian clock genes. Hypothalamic slices containing the SCN were patch clamped using microelectrodes filled with an internal solution containing the calcium indicator bis-fura-2. After a seal was formed between the microelectrode and the SCN neuronal membrane, the membrane was ruptured using gentle suction and the calcium probe diffused into the neuron filling both the soma and dendrites. Quantitative ratiometric measurements of the intracellular calcium concentration were recorded simultaneously with membrane potential or current. Using these methods it is possible to study the role of changes of the intracellular calcium concentration produced by synaptic activity and action potential firing of individual neurons. In this presentation we demonstrate the methods to simultaneously record electrophysiological activity along with intracellular calcium from individual SCN neurons maintained in brain slices.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, Synaptic Transmission, Action Potentials, Circadian Rhythm, Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials, Life Sciences (General), circadian rhythm, suprachiasmatic nucleus, membrane potential, patch clamp recording, fluorescent probe, intracellular calcium
Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6
. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7
. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant.
Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10
. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12
. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10
Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
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
A Method for Culturing Embryonic C. elegans Cells
Institutions: University of Miami .
is a powerful model system, in which genetic and molecular techniques are easily applicable. Until recently though, techniques that require direct access to cells and isolation of specific cell types, could not be applied in C. elegans
. This limitation was due to the fact that tissues are confined within a pressurized cuticle which is not easily digested by treatment with enzymes and/or detergents. Based on early pioneer work by Laird Bloom, Christensen and colleagues 1
developed a robust method for culturing C. elegans
embryonic cells in large scale. Eggs are isolated from gravid adults by treatment with bleach/NaOH and subsequently treated with chitinase to remove the eggshells. Embryonic cells are then dissociated by manual pipetting and plated onto substrate-covered glass in serum-enriched media. Within 24 hr of isolation cells begin to differentiate by changing morphology and by expressing cell specific markers. C. elegans
cells cultured using this method survive for up 2 weeks in vitro
and have been used for electrophysiological, immunochemical, and imaging analyses as well as they have been sorted and used for microarray profiling.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Eukaryota, Biological Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, C. elegans, cell culture, embryonic cells
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
Ex Vivo Assessment of Contractility, Fatigability and Alternans in Isolated Skeletal Muscles
Institutions: UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Ohio State University .
Described here is a method to measure contractility of isolated skeletal muscles. Parameters such as muscle force, muscle power, contractile kinetics, fatigability, and recovery after fatigue can be obtained to assess specific aspects of the excitation-contraction coupling (ECC) process such as excitability, contractile machinery and Ca2+
handling ability. This method removes the nerve and blood supply and focuses on the isolated skeletal muscle itself. We routinely use this method to identify genetic components that alter the contractile property of skeletal muscle though modulating Ca2+
signaling pathways. Here, we describe a newly identified skeletal muscle phenotype, i.e.
, mechanic alternans, as an example of the various and rich information that can be obtained using the in vitro
muscle contractility assay. Combination of this assay with single cell assays, genetic approaches and biochemistry assays can provide important insights into the mechanisms of ECC in skeletal muscle.
Physiology, Issue 69, extensor digitorum longus, soleus, in vitro contractility, calcium signaling, muscle-tendon complex, mechanic alternans
Measuring Intracellular Ca2+ Changes in Human Sperm using Four Techniques: Conventional Fluorometry, Stopped Flow Fluorometry, Flow Cytometry and Single Cell Imaging
Institutions: Instituto de Biotecnología-Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Edison State College.
Spermatozoa are male reproductive cells especially designed to reach, recognize and fuse with the egg. To perform these tasks, sperm cells must be prepared to face a constantly changing environment and to overcome several physical barriers. Being in essence transcriptionally and translationally silent, these motile cells rely profoundly on diverse signaling mechanisms to orient themselves and swim in a directed fashion, and to contend with challenging environmental conditions during their journey to find the egg. In particular, Ca2+
-mediated signaling is pivotal for several sperm functions: activation of motility, capacitation (a complex process that prepares sperm for the acrosome reaction) and the acrosome reaction (an exocytotic event that allows sperm-egg fusion). The use of fluorescent dyes to track intracellular fluctuations of this ion is of remarkable importance due to their ease of application, sensitivity, and versatility of detection. Using one single dye-loading protocol we utilize four different fluorometric techniques to monitor sperm Ca2+
dynamics. Each technique provides distinct information that enables spatial and/or temporal resolution, generating data both at single cell and cell population levels.
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biophysics, Anatomy, Physiology, Spermatozoa, Ion Channels, Cell Physiological Processes, Calcium Signaling, Reproductive Physiological Processes, fluorometry, Flow cytometry, stopped flow fluorometry, single-cell imaging, human sperm, sperm physiology, intracellular Ca2+, Ca2+ signaling, Ca2+ imaging, fluorescent dyes, imaging
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
Monitoring Changes in the Intracellular Calcium Concentration and Synaptic Efficacy in the Mollusc Aplysia
Institutions: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Phase Five Communications Inc..
It has been suggested that changes in intracellular calcium mediate the induction of a number of important forms of synaptic plasticity (e.g., homosynaptic facilitation) 1
. These hypotheses can be tested by simultaneously monitoring changes in intracellular calcium and alterations in synaptic efficacy. We demonstrate how this can be accomplished by combining calcium imaging with intracellular recording techniques. Our experiments are conducted in a buccal ganglion of the mollusc Aplysia californica
. This preparation has a number of experimentally advantageous features: Ganglia can be easily removed from Aplysia
and experiments use adult neurons that make normal synaptic connections and have a normal ion channel distribution. Due to the low metabolic rate of the animal and the relatively low temperatures (14-16 °C) that are natural for Aplysia
, preparations are stable for long periods of time.
To detect changes in intracellular free calcium we will use the cell impermeant version of Calcium Orange 2
which is easily 'loaded' into a neuron via iontophoresis. When this long wavelength fluorescent dye binds to calcium, fluorescence intensity increases. Calcium Orange has fast kinetic properties 3
and, unlike ratiometric dyes (e.g., Fura 2), requires no filter wheel for imaging. It is fairly photo stable and less phototoxic than other dyes (e.g., fluo-3) 2,4
. Like all non-ratiometric dyes, Calcium Orange indicates relative changes in calcium concentration. But, because it is not possible to account for changes in dye concentration due to loading and diffusion, it can not be calibrated to provide absolute calcium concentrations.
An upright, fixed stage, compound microscope was used to image neurons with a CCD camera capable of recording around 30 frames per second. In Aplysia
this temporal resolution is more than adequate to detect even a single spike induced alteration in the intracellular calcium concentration. Sharp electrodes are simultaneously used to induce and record synaptic transmission in identified pre- and postsynaptic neurons. At the conclusion of each trial, a custom script combines electrophysiology and imaging data. To ensure proper synchronization we use a light pulse from a LED mounted in the camera port of the microscope. Manipulation of presynaptic calcium levels (e.g. via intracellular EGTA injection) allows us to test specific hypotheses, concerning the role of intracellular calcium in mediating various forms of plasticity.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Marine Biology, calcium imaging, intracellular recording, invertebrate, mollusc, Aplysia, Calcium Orange, facilitation, synaptic plasticity
Calcium Imaging of Cortical Neurons using Fura-2 AM
Institutions: Stanford University , Stanford University School of Medicine.
Calcium imaging is a common technique that is useful for measuring calcium signals in cultured cells. Calcium imaging techniques take advantage of calcium indicator dyes, which are BAPTA-based organic molecules that change their spectral properties in response to the binding of Ca2+ ions. Calcium indicator dyes fall into two categories, ratio-metric dyes like Fura-2 and Indo-1 and single-wavelength dyes like Fluo-4. Ratio-metric dyes change either their excitation or their emission spectra in response to calcium, allowing the concentration of intracellular calcium to be determined from the ratio of fluorescence emission or excitation at distinct wavelengths. The main advantage of using ratio-metric dyes over single wavelength probes is that the ratio signal is independent of the dye concentration, illumination intensity, and optical path length allowing the concentration of intracellular calcium to be determined independently of these artifacts. One of the most common calcium indicators is Fura-2, which has an emission peak at 505 nM and changes its excitation peak from 340 nm to 380 nm in response to calcium binding. Here we describe the use of Fura-2 to measure intracellular calcium elevations in neurons and other excitable cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 23, calcium imaging, calcium channels, calcium, neurons, excitable cells, time-lapse, Fura-2, Calcium indicator,intracellular calcium