Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Long-term Potentiation of Perforant Pathway-dentate Gyrus Synapse in Freely Behaving Mice
Institutions: Trinity College.
Studies of long-term potentiation of synaptic efficacy, an activity-dependent synaptic phenomenon having properties that make it attractive as a potential cellular mechanism underlying learning and information storage, have long been used to elucidate the physiology of various neuronal circuits in the hippocampus, amygdala, and other limbic and cortical structures. With this in mind, transgenic mouse models of neurological diseases represent useful platforms to conduct long-term potentiation (LTP) studies to develop a greater understanding of the role of genes in normal and abnormal synaptic communication in neuronal networks involved in learning, emotion and information processing. This article describes methodologies for reliably inducing LTP in the freely behaving mouse. These methodologies can be used in studies of transgenic and knockout freely behaving mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases.
Behavior, Issue 81, freely behaving animal, mouse, dentate gyrus, hippocampus, long term potentiation, electrophysical research technique
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Laser Nanosurgery of Cerebellar Axons In Vivo
Institutions: University of Florence, National Research Council, University of Florence, International Center for Computational Neurophotonics (ICON Foundation).
Only a few neuronal populations in the central nervous system (CNS) of adult mammals show local regrowth upon dissection of their axon. In order to understand the mechanism that promotes neuronal regeneration, an in-depth analysis of the neuronal types that can remodel after injury is needed. Several studies showed that damaged climbing fibers are capable of regrowing also in adult animals1,2
. The investigation of the time-lapse dynamics of degeneration and regeneration of these axons within their complex environment can be performed by time-lapse two-photon fluorescence (TPF) imaging in vivo3,4
. This technique is here combined with laser surgery, which proved to be a highly selective tool to disrupt fluorescent structures in the intact mouse cortex5-9
This protocol describes how to perform TPF time-lapse imaging and laser nanosurgery of single axonal branches in the cerebellum in vivo
. Olivocerebellar neurons are labeled by anterograde tracing with a dextran-conjugated dye and then monitored by TPF imaging through a cranial window. The terminal portion of their axons are then dissected by irradiation with a Ti:Sapphire laser at high power. The degeneration and potential regrowth of the damaged neuron are monitored by TPF in vivo
imaging during the days following the injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, axonal labeling, neuronal tracing, in vivo imaging, two-photon microscopy, cerebellum, climbing fibers, laser axotomy, craniotomy
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
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
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
Multi-photon Intracellular Sodium Imaging Combined with UV-mediated Focal Uncaging of Glutamate in CA1 Pyramidal Neurons
Institutions: Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.
Multi-photon fluorescence microscopy has enabled the analysis of morphological and physiological parameters of brain cells in the intact tissue with high spatial and temporal resolution. Combined with electrophysiology, it is widely used to study activity-related calcium signals in small subcellular compartments such as dendrites and dendritic spines. In addition to calcium transients, synaptic activity also induces postsynaptic sodium signals, the properties of which are only marginally understood. Here, we describe a method for combined whole-cell patch-clamp and multi-photon sodium imaging in cellular micro domains of central neurons. Furthermore, we introduce a modified procedure for ultra-violet (UV)-light-induced uncaging of glutamate, which allows reliable and focal activation of glutamate receptors in the tissue. To this end, whole-cell recordings were performed on Cornu Ammonis
subdivision 1 (CA1) pyramidal neurons in acute tissue slices of the mouse hippocampus. Neurons were filled with the sodium-sensitive fluorescent dye SBFI through the patch-pipette, and multi-photon excitation of SBFI enabled the visualization of dendrites and adjacent spines. To establish UV-induced focal uncaging, several parameters including light intensity, volume affected by the UV uncaging beam, positioning of the beam as well as concentration of the caged compound were tested and optimized. Our results show that local perfusion with caged glutamate (MNI-Glutamate) and its focal UV-uncaging result in inward currents and sodium transients in dendrites and spines. Time course and amplitude of both inward currents and sodium signals correlate with the duration of the uncaging pulse. Furthermore, our results show that intracellular sodium signals are blocked in the presence of blockers for ionotropic glutamate receptors, demonstrating that they are mediated by sodium influx though this pathway. In summary, our method provides a reliable tool for the investigation of intracellular sodium signals induced by focal receptor activation in intact brain tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Neurosciences, two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp, UV-flash photolysis, mouse, hippocampus, caged compounds, glutamate, brain slice, dendrite, sodium signals
Intracellular Recording, Sensory Field Mapping, and Culturing Identified Neurons in the Leech, Hirudo medicinalis
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Salahaddin, Iraq, SISSA, Italy.
The freshwater leech, Hirudo medicinalis
, is a versatile model organism that has been used to address scientific questions in the fields of neurophysiology, neuroethology, and developmental biology. The goal of this report is to consolidate experimental techniques from the leech system into a single article that will be of use to physiologists with expertise in other nervous system preparations, or to biology students with little or no electrophysiology experience. We demonstrate how to dissect the leech for recording intracellularly from identified neural circuits in the ganglion. Next we show how individual cells of known function can be removed from the ganglion to be cultured in a Petri dish, and how to record from those neurons in culture. Then we demonstrate how to prepare a patch of innervated skin to be used for mapping sensory or motor fields. These leech preparations are still widely used to address basic electrical properties of neural networks, behavior, synaptogenesis, and development. They are also an appropriate training module for neuroscience or physiology teaching laboratories.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, leech, Neurobiology, culture, neurons, electrophysiology, synapse, neurophysiology, neuroethology, developmental biology, ganglion, central nervous system (CNS)
Improved Preparation and Preservation of Hippocampal Mouse Slices for a Very Stable and Reproducible Recording of Long-term Potentiation
Institutions: University of Mons.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a type of synaptic plasticity characterized by an increase in synaptic strength and believed to be involved in memory encoding. LTP elicited in the CA1 region of acute hippocampal slices has been extensively studied. However the molecular mechanisms underlying the maintenance phase of this phenomenon are still poorly understood. This could be partly due to the various experimental conditions used by different laboratories. Indeed, the maintenance phase of LTP is strongly dependent on external parameters like oxygenation, temperature and humidity. It is also dependent on internal parameters like orientation of the slicing plane and slice viability after dissection.
The optimization of all these parameters enables the induction of a very reproducible and very stable long-term potentiation. This methodology offers the possibility to further explore the molecular mechanisms involved in the stable increase in synaptic strength in hippocampal slices. It also highlights the importance of experimental conditions in in vitro
investigation of neurophysiological phenomena.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Memory Disorders, Learning, Memory, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, hippocampus, long-term potentiation, mice, acute slices, synaptic plasticity, in vitro, electrophysiology, animal model
Physiological Recordings of High and Low Output NMJs on the Crayfish Leg Extensor Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
We explain in detail how to expose and conduct electrophysiological recordings of synaptic responses for high (phasic) and low (tonic) output motor neurons innervating the extensor muscle in the walking leg of a crayfish. Distinct differences are present in the physiology and morphology of the phasic and tonic nerve terminals. The tonic axon contains many more mitochondria, enabling it to take a vital stain more intensely than the phasic axon. The tonic terminals have varicosities, and the phasic terminal is filiform. The tonic terminals are low in synaptic efficacy but show dramatic facilitated responses. In contrast, the phasic terminals are high in quantal efficacy but show synaptic depression with high frequency stimulation. The quantal output is measured with a focal macropatch electrode placed directly over the visualized nerve terminals. Both phasic and tonic terminals innervate the same muscle fibers, which suggests that inherent differences in the neurons, rather than differential retrograde feedback from the muscle, account for the morphological and physiological differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, crayfish, neuromuscular junction, invertebrate, motor neuron, muscle
Modeling Biological Membranes with Circuit Boards and Measuring Electrical Signals in Axons: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
This is a demonstration of how electrical models can be used to characterize biological membranes. This exercise also introduces biophysical terminology used in electrophysiology. The same equipment is used in the membrane model as on live preparations. Some properties of an isolated nerve cord are investigated: nerve action potentials, recruitment of neurons, and responsiveness of the nerve cord to environmental factors.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, Modeling, Student laboratory, Nerve cord
Preparation of Acute Hippocampal Slices from Rats and Transgenic Mice for the Study of Synaptic Alterations during Aging and Amyloid Pathology
Institutions: University of Kentucky College of Public Health, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
The rodent hippocampal slice preparation is perhaps the most broadly used tool for investigating mammalian synaptic function and plasticity. The hippocampus can be extracted quickly and easily from rats and mice and slices remain viable for hours in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid. Moreover, basic electrophysisologic techniques are easily applied to the investigation of synaptic function in hippocampal slices and have provided some of the best biomarkers for cognitive impairments. The hippocampal slice is especially popular for the study of synaptic plasticity mechanisms involved in learning and memory. Changes in the induction of long-term potentiation and depression (LTP and LTD) of synaptic efficacy in hippocampal slices (or lack thereof) are frequently used to describe the neurologic phenotype of cognitively-impaired animals and/or to evaluate the mechanism of action of nootropic compounds. This article outlines the procedures we use for preparing hippocampal slices from rats and transgenic mice for the study of synaptic alterations associated with brain aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD)1-3
. Use of aged rats and AD model mice can present a unique set of challenges to researchers accustomed to using younger rats and/or mice in their research. Aged rats have thicker skulls and tougher connective tissue than younger rats and mice, which can delay brain extraction and/or dissection and consequently negate or exaggerate real age-differences in synaptic function and plasticity. Aging and amyloid pathology may also exacerbate hippocampal damage sustained during the dissection procedure, again complicating any inferences drawn from physiologic assessment. Here, we discuss the steps taken during the dissection procedure to minimize these problems. Examples of synaptic responses acquired in "healthy" and "unhealthy" slices from rats and mice are provided, as well as representative synaptic plasticity experiments. The possible impact of other methodological factors on synaptic function in these animal models (e.g. recording solution components, stimulation parameters) are also discussed. While the focus of this article is on the use of aged rats and transgenic mice, novices to slice physiology should find enough detail here to get started on their own studies, using a variety of rodent models.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, aging, amyloid, hippocampal slice, synaptic plasticity, Ca2+, CA1, electrophysiology
Automated Sholl Analysis of Digitized Neuronal Morphology at Multiple Scales
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Neuronal morphology plays a significant role in determining how neurons function and communicate1-3
. Specifically, it affects the ability of neurons to receive inputs from other cells2
and contributes to the propagation of action potentials4,5
. The morphology of the neurites also affects how information is processed. The diversity of dendrite morphologies facilitate local and long range signaling and allow individual neurons or groups of neurons to carry out specialized functions within the neuronal network6,7
. Alterations in dendrite morphology, including fragmentation of dendrites and changes in branching patterns, have been observed in a number of disease states, including Alzheimer's disease8
, and mental retardation11
. The ability to both understand the factors that shape dendrite morphologies and to identify changes in dendrite morphologies is essential in the understanding of nervous system function and dysfunction.
Neurite morphology is often analyzed by Sholl analysis and by counting the number of neurites and the number of branch tips. This analysis is generally applied to dendrites, but it can also be applied to axons. Performing this analysis by hand is both time consuming and inevitably introduces variability due to experimenter bias and inconsistency. The Bonfire program is a semi-automated approach to the analysis of dendrite and axon morphology that builds upon available open-source morphological analysis tools. Our program enables the detection of local changes in dendrite and axon branching behaviors by performing Sholl analysis on subregions of the neuritic arbor. For example, Sholl analysis is performed on both the neuron as a whole as well as on each subset of processes (primary, secondary, terminal, root, etc.) Dendrite and axon patterning is influenced by a number of intracellular and extracellular factors, many acting locally. Thus, the resulting arbor morphology is a result of specific processes acting on specific neurites, making it necessary to perform morphological analysis on a smaller scale in order to observe these local variations12
The Bonfire program requires the use of two open-source analysis tools, the NeuronJ plugin to ImageJ and NeuronStudio. Neurons are traced in ImageJ, and NeuronStudio is used to define the connectivity between neurites. Bonfire contains a number of custom scripts written in MATLAB (MathWorks) that are used to convert the data into the appropriate format for further analysis, check for user errors, and ultimately perform Sholl analysis. Finally, data are exported into Excel for statistical analysis. A flow chart of the Bonfire program is shown in Figure 1
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Sholl Analysis, Neurite, Morphology, Computer-assisted, Tracing
Postsynaptic Recordings at Afferent Dendrites Contacting Cochlear Inner Hair Cells: Monitoring Multivesicular Release at a Ribbon Synapse
Institutions: The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas.
The afferent synapse between the inner hair cell (IHC) and the auditory nerve fiber provides an electrophysiologically accessible site for recording the postsynaptic activity of a single ribbon synapse 1-4
. Ribbon synapses of sensory cells release neurotransmitter continuously, the rate of which is modulated in response to graded changes in IHC membrane potential 5
. Ribbon synapses have been shown to operate by multivesicular release, where multiple vesicles can be released simultaneously to evoke excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) of varying amplitudes 1, 4, 6-11
. Neither the role of the presynaptic ribbon, nor the mechanism underlying multivesicular release is currently well understood.
The IHC is innervated by 10-20 auditory nerve fibers, and every fiber contacts the IHC with a unmyelinated single ending to form a single ribbon synapse. The small size of the afferent boutons contacting IHCs (approximately 1 μm in diameter) enables recordings with exceptional temporal resolution to be made. Furthermore, the technique can be adapted to record from both pre- and postsynaptic cells simultaneously, allowing the transfer function at the synapse to be studied directly 2
. This method therefore provides a means by which fundamental aspects of neurotransmission can be studied, from multivesicular release to the elusive function of the ribbon in sensory cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, electrophysiology, whole-cell recording, patch clamp, synaptic transmission, ribbon synapse, multivesicular, dendrite, auditory nerve, hearing, hair cell.
Optical Recording of Suprathreshold Neural Activity with Single-cell and Single-spike Resolution
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Signaling of information in the vertebrate central nervous system is often carried by populations of neurons rather than individual neurons. Also propagation of suprathreshold spiking activity involves populations of neurons. Empirical studies addressing cortical function directly thus require recordings from populations of neurons with high resolution. Here we describe an optical method and a deconvolution algorithm to record neural activity from up to 100 neurons with single-cell and single-spike resolution. This method relies on detection of the transient increases in intracellular somatic calcium concentration associated with suprathreshold electrical spikes (action potentials) in cortical neurons. High temporal resolution of the optical recordings is achieved by a fast random-access scanning technique using acousto-optical deflectors (AODs)1
. Two-photon excitation of the calcium-sensitive dye results in high spatial resolution in opaque brain tissue2
. Reconstruction of spikes from the fluorescence calcium recordings is achieved by a maximum-likelihood method. Simultaneous electrophysiological and optical recordings indicate that our method reliably detects spikes (>97% spike detection efficiency), has a low rate of false positive spike detection (< 0.003 spikes/sec), and a high temporal precision (about 3 msec) 3
. This optical method of spike detection can be used to record neural activity in vitro
and in anesthetized animals in vivo3,4
Neuroscience, Issue 67, functional calcium imaging, spatiotemporal patterns of activity, dithered random-access scanning
Voltage-sensitive Dye Recording from Axons, Dendrites and Dendritic Spines of Individual Neurons in Brain Slices
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Understanding the biophysical properties and functional organization of single neurons and how they process information is fundamental for understanding how the brain works. The primary function of any nerve cell is to process electrical signals, usually from multiple sources. Electrical properties of neuronal processes are extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and, in the general case, impossible to predict in the absence of detailed measurements. To obtain such a measurement one would, ideally, like to be able to monitor, at multiple sites, subthreshold events as they travel from the sites of origin on neuronal processes and summate at particular locations to influence action potential initiation. This goal has not been achieved in any neuron due to technical limitations of measurements that employ electrodes. To overcome this drawback, it is highly desirable to complement the patch-electrode approach with imaging techniques that permit extensive parallel recordings from all parts of a neuron. Here, we describe such a technique - optical recording of membrane potential transients with organic voltage-sensitive dyes (Vm
-imaging) - characterized by sub-millisecond and sub-micrometer resolution. Our method is based on pioneering work on voltage-sensitive molecular probes 2
. Many aspects of the initial technology have been continuously improved over several decades 3, 5, 11
. Additionally, previous work documented two essential characteristics of Vm-
imaging. Firstly, fluorescence signals are linearly proportional to membrane potential over the entire physiological range (-100 mV to +100 mV; 10, 14, 16
). Secondly, loading neurons with the voltage-sensitive dye used here (JPW 3028) does not have detectable pharmacological effects. The recorded broadening of the spike during dye loading is completely reversible 4, 7
. Additionally, experimental evidence shows that it is possible to obtain a significant number (up to hundreds) of recordings prior to any detectable phototoxic effects 4, 6, 12, 13
. At present, we take advantage of the superb brightness and stability of a laser light source at near-optimal wavelength to maximize the sensitivity of the Vm
-imaging technique. The current sensitivity permits multiple site optical recordings of Vm
transients from all parts of a neuron, including axons and axon collaterals, terminal dendritic branches, and individual dendritic spines. The acquired information on signal interactions can be analyzed quantitatively as well as directly visualized in the form of a movie.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, voltage-sensitive dyes, brain, imaging, dendritic spines, axons, dendrites, neurons
Simultaneous Pre- and Post-synaptic Electrophysiological Recording from Xenopus Nerve-muscle Co-cultures
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Pepperdine University.
Much information about the coupling of presynaptic ionic currents with the release of neurotransmitter has been obtained from invertebrate preparations, most notably the squid giant synapse1
. However, except for the preparation described here, few vertebrate preparations exist in which it is possible to make simultaneous measurements of neurotransmitter release and presynaptic ionic currents. Embryonic Xenopus
motoneurons and muscle cells can be grown together in simple culture medium at room temperature; they will form functional synapses within twelve to twenty-four hours, and can be used to study nerve and muscle cell development and synaptic interactions for several days (until overgrowth occurs). Some advantages of these co-cultures over other vertebrate preparations include the simplicity of preparation, the ability to maintain the cultures and work at room temperature, and the ready accessibility of the synapses formed2-4
. The preparation has been used widely to study the biophysical properties of presynaptic ion channels and the regulation of transmitter release5-8
. In addition, the preparation has lent itself to other uses including the study of neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis9-12
, molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter release13-15
, the role of diffusible messengers in neuromodulation16,17
, and in vitro
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biophysics, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Electrophysiology, Neurophysiology, Xenopus, patch clamp, primary culture, embryo, synapses, synaptogenesis, synaptic currents, neurotransmitter release, varicosity, neurite guidance, neurons, motoneurons, cell culture, microdisection, animal model
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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
A Craniotomy Surgery Procedure for Chronic Brain Imaging
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Imaging techniques are becoming increasingly important in the study brain function. Among them, two-photon laser scanning microscopy has emerged as an extremely useful method, because it allows the study of the live intact brain. With appropriate preparations, this technique allows the observation of the same cortical area chronically, from minutes to months. In this video, we show a preparation for chronic in vivo imaging of the brain using two-photon microscopy. This technique was initially pioneered by Dr. Karel Svoboda, who is now a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Janelia Farm. Preparations like the one shown here can be used for imaging of neocortical structure (e.g., dendritic and axonal dynamics), to record neuronal activity using calcium-sensitive dyes, to image cortical blood flow dynamics, or for intrinsic optical imaging studies. Deep imaging of the neocortex is possible with optimal cranial window surgeries. Operating under the most sterile conditions possible to avoid infections, together with using extreme care to do not damage the dura mater during the surgery, will result in successful and long-lasting glass-covered cranial windows.
Neuroscience, Issue 12, glass, cranial window, two-photon, 2-photon, cortex, dendrite, axon, green fluorescent protein, svoboda, cell