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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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
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
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
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Implementing Dynamic Clamp with Synaptic and Artificial Conductances in Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney , University of Western Sydney, University of Sydney .
Ganglion cells are the output neurons of the retina and their activity reflects the integration of multiple synaptic inputs arising from specific neural circuits. Patch clamp techniques, in voltage clamp and current clamp configurations, are commonly used to study the physiological properties of neurons and to characterize their synaptic inputs. Although the application of these techniques is highly informative, they pose various limitations. For example, it is difficult to quantify how the precise interactions of excitatory and inhibitory inputs determine response output. To address this issue, we used a modified current clamp technique, dynamic clamp, also called conductance clamp 1, 2, 3
and examined the impact of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs on neuronal excitability. This technique requires the injection of current into the cell and is dependent on the real-time feedback of its membrane potential at that time. The injected current is calculated from predetermined excitatory and inhibitory synaptic conductances, their reversal potentials and the cell's instantaneous membrane potential. Details on the experimental procedures, patch clamping cells to achieve a whole-cell configuration and employment of the dynamic clamp technique are illustrated in this video article. Here, we show the responses of mouse retinal ganglion cells to various conductance waveforms obtained from physiological experiments in control conditions or in the presence of drugs. Furthermore, we show the use of artificial excitatory and inhibitory conductances generated using alpha functions to investigate the responses of the cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Neurons, Retinal Neurons, Retinal Ganglion Cells, Eye, Retina, Neurosciences, retina, ganglion cells, synaptic conductance, artificial conductance, tetrodotoxin (TTX), patch clamp, dynamic clamp, conductance clamp, electrophysiology, mouse, animal model
The Swimmeret System of Crayfish: A Practical Guide for the Dissection of the Nerve Cord and Extracellular Recordings of the Motor Pattern
Institutions: University of Cologne.
Here we demonstrate the dissection of the crayfish abdominal nerve cord. The preparation comprises the last two thoracic ganglia (T4, T5) and the chain of abdominal ganglia (A1 to A6). This chain of ganglia includes the part of the central nervous system (CNS) that drives coordinated locomotion of the pleopods (swimmerets): the swimmeret system. It is known for over five decades that in crayfish each swimmeret is driven by its own independent pattern generating kernel that generates rhythmic alternating activity 1-3
. The motor neurons innervating the musculature of each swimmeret comprise two anatomically and functionally distinct populations 4
. One is responsible for the retraction (power stroke, PS) of the swimmeret. The other drives the protraction (return stroke, RS) of the swimmeret. Motor neurons of the swimmeret system are able to produce spontaneously a fictive motor pattern, which is identical to the pattern recorded in vivo 1
The aim of this report is to introduce an interesting and convenient model system for studying rhythm generating networks and coordination of independent microcircuits for students’ practical laboratory courses. The protocol provided includes step-by-step instructions for the dissection of the crayfish’s abdominal nerve cord, pinning of the isolated chain of ganglia, desheathing the ganglia and recording the swimmerets fictive motor pattern extracellularly from the isolated nervous system.
Additionally, we can monitor the activity of swimmeret neurons recorded intracellularly from dendrites. Here we also describe briefly these techniques and provide some examples. Furthermore, the morphology of swimmeret neurons can be assessed using various staining techniques. Here we provide examples of intracellular (by iontophoresis) dye filled neurons and backfills of pools of swimmeret motor neurons. In our lab we use this preparation to study basic functions of fictive locomotion, the effect of sensory feedback on the activity of the CNS, and coordination between microcircuits on a cellular level.
Neurobiology, Issue 93, crustacean, dissection, extracellular recording, fictive locomotion, motor neurons, locomotion
3D-Neuronavigation In Vivo Through a Patient's Brain During a Spontaneous Migraine Headache
Institutions: University of Michigan School of Dentistry, University of Michigan School of Dentistry, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
A growing body of research, generated primarily from MRI-based studies, shows that migraine appears to occur, and possibly endure, due to the alteration of specific neural processes in the central nervous system. However, information is lacking on the molecular impact of these changes, especially on the endogenous opioid system during migraine headaches, and neuronavigation through these changes has never been done. This study aimed to investigate, using a novel 3D immersive and interactive neuronavigation (3D-IIN) approach, the endogenous µ-opioid transmission in the brain during a migraine headache attack in vivo
. This is arguably one of the most central neuromechanisms associated with pain regulation, affecting multiple elements of the pain experience and analgesia. A 36 year-old female, who has been suffering with migraine for 10 years, was scanned in the typical headache (ictal) and nonheadache (interictal) migraine phases using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) with the selective radiotracer [11
C]carfentanil, which allowed us to measure µ-opioid receptor availability in the brain (non-displaceable binding potential - µOR BPND
). The short-life radiotracer was produced by a cyclotron and chemical synthesis apparatus on campus located in close proximity to the imaging facility. Both PET scans, interictal and ictal, were scheduled during separate mid-late follicular phases of the patient's menstrual cycle. During the ictal PET session her spontaneous headache attack reached severe intensity levels; progressing to nausea and vomiting at the end of the scan session. There were reductions in µOR BPND
in the pain-modulatory regions of the endogenous µ-opioid system during the ictal phase, including the cingulate cortex, nucleus accumbens (NAcc), thalamus (Thal), and periaqueductal gray matter (PAG); indicating that µORs were already occupied by endogenous opioids released in response to the ongoing pain. To our knowledge, this is the first time that changes in µOR BPND
during a migraine headache attack have been neuronavigated using a novel 3D approach. This method allows for interactive research and educational exploration of a migraine attack in an actual patient's neuroimaging dataset.
Medicine, Issue 88, μ-opioid, opiate, migraine, headache, pain, Positron Emission Tomography, molecular neuroimaging, 3D, neuronavigation
Whole Cell Patch Clamp for Investigating the Mechanisms of Infrared Neural Stimulation
Institutions: Swinburne University of Technology, The University of Melbourne.
It has been demonstrated in recent years that pulsed, infrared laser light can be used to elicit electrical responses in neural tissue, independent of any further modification of the target tissue. Infrared neural stimulation has been reported in a variety of peripheral and sensory neural tissue in vivo
, with particular interest shown in stimulation of neurons in the auditory nerve. However, while INS has been shown to work in these settings, the mechanism (or mechanisms) by which infrared light causes neural excitation is currently not well understood. The protocol presented here describes a whole cell patch clamp method designed to facilitate the investigation of infrared neural stimulation in cultured primary auditory neurons. By thoroughly characterizing the response of these cells to infrared laser illumination in vitro
under controlled conditions, it may be possible to gain an improved understanding of the fundamental physical and biochemical processes underlying infrared neural stimulation.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Primary Cell Culture, Biophysics, Electrophysiology, fiber optics, infrared neural stimulation, patch clamp, in vitro models, spiral ganglion neurons, neurons, patch clamp recordings, cell culture
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
Inducing Dendritic Growth in Cultured Sympathetic Neurons
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
The shape of the dendritic arbor determines the total synaptic input a neuron can receive 1-3
, and influences the types and distribution of these inputs 4-6
. Altered patterns of dendritic growth and plasticity are associated with impaired neurobehavioral function in experimental models 7
, and are thought to contribute to clinical symptoms observed in both neurodevelopmental disorders 8-10
and neurodegenerative diseases 11-13
. Such observations underscore the functional importance of precisely regulating dendritic morphology, and suggest that identifying mechanisms that control dendritic growth will not only advance understanding of how neuronal connectivity is regulated during normal development, but may also provide insight on novel therapeutic strategies for diverse neurological diseases.
Mechanistic studies of dendritic growth would be greatly facilitated by the availability of a model system that allows neurons to be experimentally switched from a state in which they do not extend dendrites to one in which they elaborate a dendritic arbor comparable to that of their in vivo
counterparts. Primary cultures of sympathetic neurons dissociated from the superior cervical ganglia (SCG) of perinatal rodents provide such a model. When cultured in defined medium in the absence of serum and ganglionic glial cells, sympathetic neurons extend a single process which is axonal, and this unipolar state persists for weeks to months in culture 14,15
. However, the addition of either bone morphogenetic protein-7 (BMP-7) 16,17
or Matrigel 18
to the culture medium triggers these neurons to extend multiple processes that meet the morphologic, biochemical and functional criteria for dendrites. Sympathetic neurons dissociated from the SCG of perinatal rodents and grown under defined conditions are a homogenous population of neurons 19
that respond uniformly to the dendrite-promoting activity of Matrigel, BMP-7 and other BMPs of the decapentaplegic (dpp) and 60A subfamilies 17,18,20,21
. Importantly, Matrigel- and BMP-induced dendrite formation occurs in the absence of changes in cell survival or axonal growth 17,18
Here, we describe how to set up dissociated cultures of sympathetic neurons derived from the SCG of perinatal rats so that they are responsive to the selective dendrite-promoting activity of Matrigel or BMPs.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), Matrigel, dendrite, dendritogenesis, neuronal morphogenesis, sympathetic neurons
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
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
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
Optic Nerve Transection: A Model of Adult Neuron Apoptosis in the Central Nervous System
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. 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.
Neuroscience, issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retina, Apoptosis, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Rat, Retrograde Labeling, Rat 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
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
Viral Tracing of Genetically Defined Neural Circuitry
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Harvard Medical School.
Classical methods for studying neuronal circuits are fairly low throughput. Transsynaptic viruses, particularly the pseudorabies (PRV) and rabies virus (RABV), and more recently vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), for studying circuitry, is becoming increasingly popular. These higher throughput methods use viruses that transmit between neurons in either the anterograde or retrograde direction.
Recently, a modified RABV for monosynaptic retrograde tracing was developed. (Figure 1A
). In this method, the glycoprotein (G) gene is deleted from the viral genome, and resupplied only in targeted neurons. Infection specificity is achieved by substituting a chimeric G, composed of the extracellular domain of the ASLV-A glycoprotein and the cytoplasmic domain of the RABV-G (A/RG), for the normal RABV-G1
. This chimeric G specifically infects cells expressing the TVA receptor1
. The gene encoding TVA can been delivered by various methods2-8
. Following RABV-G infection of a TVA-expressing neuron, the RABV can transmit to other, synaptically connected neurons in a retrograde direction by nature of its own G which was co-delivered with the TVA receptor. This technique labels a relatively large number of inputs (5-10%)2
onto a defined cell type, providing a sampling of all of the inputs onto a defined starter cell type.
We recently modified this technique to use VSV as a transsynaptic tracer9
. VSV has several advantages, including the rapidity of gene expression. Here we detail a new viral tracing system using VSV useful for probing microcircuitry with increased resolution. While the original published strategies by Wickersham et al.4
and Beier et al.9
permit labeling of any neurons that project onto initially-infected TVA-expressing-cells, here VSV was engineered to transmit
only to TVA-expressing cells (Figure 1B
). The virus is first pseudotyped with RABV-G to permit infection of neurons downstream of TVA-expressing neurons. After infecting this first population of cells, the virus released can only infect TVA-expressing cells. Because the transsynaptic viral spread is limited to TVA-expressing cells, presence of absence of connectivity from defined cell types can be explored with high resolution. An experimental flow chart of these experiments is shown in Figure 2
. Here we show a model circuit, that of direction-selectivity in the mouse retina. We examine the connectivity of starburst amacrine cells (SACs) to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs).
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Virology, Virus, VSV, transsynaptic tracing, TVA, retrograde, neuron, synapse
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
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
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
Selective Tracing of Auditory Fibers in the Avian Embryonic Vestibulocochlear Nerve
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
The embryonic chick is a widely used model for the study of peripheral and central ganglion cell projections. In the auditory system, selective labeling of auditory axons within the VIIIth cranial nerve would enhance the study of central auditory circuit development. This approach is challenging because multiple sensory organs of the inner ear contribute to the VIIIth nerve 1
. Moreover, markers that reliably distinguish auditory versus vestibular groups of axons within the avian VIIIth nerve have yet to be identified. Auditory and vestibular pathways cannot be distinguished functionally in early embryos, as sensory-evoked responses are not present before the circuits are formed. Centrally projecting VIIIth nerve axons have been traced in some studies, but auditory axon labeling was accompanied by labeling from other VIIIth nerve components 2,3
. Here, we describe a method for anterograde tracing from the acoustic ganglion to selectively label auditory axons within the developing VIIIth nerve. First, after partial dissection of the anterior cephalic region of an 8-day chick embryo immersed in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid, the cochlear duct is identified by anatomical landmarks. Next, a fine pulled glass micropipette is positioned to inject a small amount of rhodamine dextran amine into the duct and adjacent deep region where the acoustic ganglion cells are located. Within thirty minutes following the injection, auditory axons are traced centrally into the hindbrain and can later be visualized following histologic preparation. This method provides a useful tool for developmental studies of peripheral to central auditory circuit formation.
Neurobiology, Issue 73, Neuroscience, Behavior, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Development, Inner Ear, Cochlea, Auditory, Chick, Axon Tracing, VIIIth Cranial Nerve, nerve, ganglion, fiber, cochlear duct, basilar papilla, embryo, microinjection, animal model
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