Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
Simulating Pancreatic Neuroplasticity: In Vitro Dual-neuron Plasticity Assay
Institutions: Technische Universität München, University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern/Zweibrücken.
Neuroplasticity is an inherent feature of the enteric nervous system and gastrointestinal (GI) innervation under pathological conditions. However, the pathophysiological role of neuroplasticity in GI disorders remains unknown. Novel experimental models which allow simulation and modulation of GI neuroplasticity may enable enhanced appreciation of the contribution of neuroplasticity in particular GI diseases such as pancreatic cancer (PCa) and chronic pancreatitis (CP). Here, we present a protocol for simulation of pancreatic neuroplasticity under in vitro
conditions using newborn rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and myenteric plexus (MP) neurons. This dual-neuron approach not only permits monitoring of both organ-intrinsic and -extrinsic neuroplasticity, but also represents a valuable tool to assess neuronal and glial morphology and electrophysiology. Moreover, it allows functional modulation of supplied microenvironmental contents for studying their impact on neuroplasticity. Once established, the present neuroplasticity assay bears the potential of being applicable to the study of neuroplasticity in any GI organ.
Medicine, Issue 86, Autonomic Nervous System Diseases, Digestive System Neoplasms, Gastrointestinal Diseases, Pancreatic Diseases, Pancreatic Neoplasms, Pancreatitis, Pancreatic neuroplasticity, dorsal root ganglia, myenteric plexus, Morphometry, neurite density, neurite branching, perikaryonal hypertrophy, neuronal plasticity
Rapid Genotyping of Animals Followed by Establishing Primary Cultures of Brain Neurons
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EZ BioResearch LLC.
High-resolution analysis of the morphology and function of mammalian neurons often requires the genotyping of individual animals followed by the analysis of primary cultures of neurons. We describe a set of procedures for: labeling newborn mice to be genotyped, rapid genotyping, and establishing low-density cultures of brain neurons from these mice. Individual mice are labeled by tattooing, which allows for long-term identification lasting into adulthood. Genotyping by the described protocol is fast and efficient, and allows for automated extraction of nucleic acid with good reliability. This is useful under circumstances where sufficient time for conventional genotyping is not available, e.g.,
in mice that suffer from neonatal lethality. Primary neuronal cultures are generated at low density, which enables imaging experiments at high spatial resolution. This culture method requires the preparation of glial feeder layers prior to neuronal plating. The protocol is applied in its entirety to a mouse model of the movement disorder DYT1 dystonia (ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice), and neuronal cultures are prepared from the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and striatum of these mice. This protocol can be applied to mice with other genetic mutations, as well as to animals of other species. Furthermore, individual components of the protocol can be used for isolated sub-projects. Thus this protocol will have wide applications, not only in neuroscience but also in other fields of biological and medical sciences.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, AP2, genotyping, glial feeder layer, mouse tail, neuronal culture, nucleic-acid extraction, PCR, tattoo, torsinA
Real-time Imaging of Axonal Transport of Quantum Dot-labeled BDNF in Primary Neurons
Institutions: University of California, San Diego, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, University of California, San Diego, VA San Diego Healthcare System.
BDNF plays an important role in several facets of neuronal survival, differentiation, and function. Structural and functional deficits in axons are increasingly viewed as an early feature of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Huntington’s disease (HD). As yet unclear is the mechanism(s) by which axonal injury is induced. We reported the development of a novel technique to produce biologically active, monobiotinylated BDNF (mBtBDNF) that can be used to trace axonal transport of BDNF. Quantum dot-labeled BDNF (QD-BDNF) was produced by conjugating quantum dot 655 to mBtBDNF. A microfluidic device was used to isolate axons from neuron cell bodies. Addition of QD-BDNF to the axonal compartment allowed live imaging of BDNF transport in axons. We demonstrated that QD-BDNF moved essentially exclusively retrogradely, with very few pauses, at a moving velocity of around 1.06 μm/sec. This system can be used to investigate mechanisms of disrupted axonal function in AD or HD, as well as other degenerative disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, live imaging, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), quantum dot, trafficking, axonal retrograde transport, microfluidic chamber
A Neuronal and Astrocyte Co-Culture Assay for High Content Analysis of Neurotoxicity
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
High Content Analysis (HCA) assays combine cells and detection reagents with automated imaging and powerful image analysis algorithms, allowing measurement of multiple cellular phenotypes within a single assay. In this study, we utilized HCA to develop a novel assay for neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity assessment represents an important part of drug safety evaluation, as well as being a significant focus of environmental protection efforts. Additionally, neurotoxicity is also a well-accepted in vitro
marker of the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Recently, the application of HCA to neuronal screening has been reported. By labeling neuronal cells with βIII-tubulin, HCA assays can provide high-throughput, non-subjective, quantitative measurements of parameters such as neuronal number, neurite count and neurite length, all of which can indicate neurotoxic effects. However, the role of astrocytes remains unexplored in these models. Astrocytes have an integral role in the maintenance of central nervous system (CNS) homeostasis, and are associated with both neuroprotection and neurodegradation when they are activated in response to toxic substances or disease states. GFAP is an intermediate filament protein expressed predominantly in the astrocytes of the CNS. Astrocytic activation (gliosis) leads to the upregulation of GFAP, commonly accompanied by astrocyte proliferation and hypertrophy. This process of reactive gliosis has been proposed as an early marker of damage to the nervous system. The traditional method for GFAP quantitation is by immunoassay. This approach is limited by an inability to provide information on cellular localization, morphology and cell number. We determined that HCA could be used to overcome these limitations and to simultaneously measure multiple features associated with gliosis - changes in GFAP expression, astrocyte hypertrophy, and astrocyte proliferation - within a single assay. In co-culture studies, astrocytes have been shown to protect neurons against several types of toxic insult and to critically influence neuronal survival. Recent studies have suggested that the use of astrocytes in an in vitro
neurotoxicity test system may prove more relevant to human CNS structure and function than neuronal cells alone. Accordingly, we have developed an HCA assay for co-culture of neurons and astrocytes, comprised of protocols and validated, target-specific detection reagents for profiling βIII-tubulin and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). This assay enables simultaneous analysis of neurotoxicity, neurite outgrowth, gliosis, neuronal and astrocytic morphology and neuronal and astrocytic development in a wide variety of cellular models, representing a novel, non-subjective, high-throughput assay for neurotoxicity assessment. The assay holds great potential for enhanced detection of neurotoxicity and improved productivity in neuroscience research and drug discovery.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, high content screening, high content analysis, neurotoxicity, toxicity, drug discovery, neurite outgrowth, astrocytes, neurons, co-culture, immunofluorescence
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
An Optogenetic Approach for Assessing Formation of Neuronal Connections in a Co-culture System
Institutions: Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Nanyang Technological University.
Here we describe a protocol to generate a co-culture consisting of 2 different neuronal populations. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are reprogrammed from human fibroblasts using episomal vectors. Colonies of iPSCs can be observed 30 days after initiation of fibroblast reprogramming. Pluripotent colonies are manually picked and grown in neural induction medium to permit differentiation into neural progenitor cells (NPCs). iPSCs rapidly convert into neuroepithelial cells within 1 week and retain the capability to self-renew when maintained at a high culture density. Primary mouse NPCs are differentiated into astrocytes by exposure to a serum-containing medium for 7 days and form a monolayer upon which embryonic day 18 (E18) rat cortical neurons (transfected with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)) are added. Human NPCs tagged with the fluorescent protein, tandem dimer Tomato (tdTomato), are then seeded onto the astrocyte/cortical neuron culture the following day and allowed to differentiate for 28 to 35 days. We demonstrate that this system forms synaptic connections between iPSC-derived neurons and cortical neurons, evident from an increase in the frequency of synaptic currents upon photostimulation of the cortical neurons. This co-culture system provides a novel platform for evaluating the ability of iPSC-derived neurons to create synaptic connections with other neuronal populations.
Developmental Biology, Issue 96, Neuroscience, Channelrhodopsin-2, Co-culture, Neurons, Astrocytes, induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, Neural progenitors, Differentiation, Cell culture, Cortex
Dorsal Root Ganglia Neurons and Differentiated Adipose-derived Stem Cells: An In Vitro Co-culture Model to Study Peripheral Nerve Regeneration
Institutions: EPFL | STI | IMT/IBI | LSBI, The University of Manchester, University Hospital of South Manchester.
Dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, located in the intervertebral foramina of the spinal column, can be used to create an in vitro
system facilitating the study of nerve regeneration and myelination. The glial cells of the peripheral nervous system, Schwann cells (SC), are key facilitators of these processes; it is therefore crucial that the interactions of these cellular components are studied together. Direct contact between DRG neurons and glial cells provides additional stimuli sensed by specific membrane receptors, further improving the neuronal response. SC release growth factors and proteins in the culture medium, which enhance neuron survival and stimulate neurite sprouting and extension. However, SC require long proliferation time to be used for tissue engineering applications and the sacrifice of an healthy nerve for their sourcing. Adipose-derived stem cells (ASC) differentiated into SC phenotype are a valid alternative to SC for the set-up of a co-culture model with DRG neurons to study nerve regeneration. The present work presents a detailed and reproducible step-by-step protocol to harvest both DRG neurons and ASC from adult rats; to differentiate ASC towards a SC phenotype; and combines the two cell types in a direct co-culture system to investigate the interplay between neurons and SC in the peripheral nervous system. This tool has great potential in the optimization of tissue-engineered constructs for peripheral nerve repair.
Neuroscience, Issue 96, Co-culture, neurons, stem cells, neurite outgrowth, peripheral nerve repair, cell-cell interaction
Alternative Cultures for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Production, Maintenance, and Genetic Analysis
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Health.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) hold great promise for regenerative medicine and biopharmaceutical applications. Currently, optimal culture and efficient expansion of large amounts of clinical-grade hPSCs are critical issues in hPSC-based therapies. Conventionally, hPSCs are propagated as colonies on both feeder and feeder-free culture systems. However, these methods have several major limitations, including low cell yields and generation of heterogeneously differentiated cells. To improve current hPSC culture methods, we have recently developed a new method, which is based on non-colony type monolayer (NCM) culture of dissociated single cells. Here, we present detailed NCM protocols based on the Rho-associated kinase (ROCK) inhibitor Y-27632. We also provide new information regarding NCM culture with different small molecules such as Y-39983 (ROCK I inhibitor), phenylbenzodioxane (ROCK II inhibitor), and thiazovivin (a novel ROCK inhibitor). We further extend our basic protocol to cultivate hPSCs on defined extracellular proteins such as the laminin isoform 521 (LN-521) without the use of ROCK inhibitors. Moreover, based on NCM, we have demonstrated efficient transfection or transduction of plasmid DNAs, lentiviral particles, and oligonucleotide-based microRNAs into hPSCs in order to genetically modify these cells for molecular analyses and drug discovery. The NCM-based methods overcome the major shortcomings of colony-type culture, and thus may be suitable for producing large amounts of homogeneous hPSCs for future clinical therapies, stem cell research, and drug discovery.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 89, Pluripotent stem cells, human embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, cell culture, non-colony type monolayer, single cell, plating efficiency, Rho-associated kinase, Y-27632, transfection, transduction
Preparation of Neuronal Co-cultures with Single Cell Precision
Institutions: ISAS, University College London, University of Southampton.
Microfluidic embodiments of the Campenot chamber have attracted great interest from the neuroscience community. These interconnected co-culture platforms can be used to investigate a variety of questions, spanning developmental and functional neurobiology to infection and disease propagation. However, conventional systems require significant cellular inputs (many thousands per compartment), inadequate for studying low abundance cells, such as primary dopaminergic substantia nigra,
spiral ganglia, and Drosophilia melanogaster
neurons, and impractical for high throughput experimentation. The dense cultures are also highly locally entangled, with few outgrowths (<10%) interconnecting the two cultures. In this paper straightforward microfluidic and patterning protocols are described which address these challenges: (i) a microfluidic single neuron arraying method, and (ii) a water masking method for plasma patterning biomaterial coatings to register neurons and promote outgrowth between compartments. Minimalistic neuronal co-cultures were prepared with high-level (>85%) intercompartment connectivity and can be used for high throughput neurobiology experiments with single cell precision.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, microfluidic arraying, single cell, biomaterial patterning, co-culture, compartmentalization, Alzheimer and Parkinson Diseases, neurite outgrowth, high throughput screening
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
Imaging Analysis of Neuron to Glia Interaction in Microfluidic Culture Platform (MCP)-based Neuronal Axon and Glia Co-culture System
Institutions: Tufts University, Tufts Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.
Proper neuron to glia interaction is critical to physiological function of the central nervous system (CNS). This bidirectional communication is sophisticatedly mediated by specific signaling pathways between neuron and glia1,2
. Identification and characterization of these signaling pathways is essential to the understanding of how neuron to glia interaction shapes CNS physiology. Previously, neuron and glia mixed cultures have been widely utilized for testing and characterizing signaling pathways between neuron and glia. What we have learned from these preparations and other in vivo
tools, however, has suggested that mutual signaling between neuron and glia often occurred in specific compartments within neurons (i.e.
, axon, dendrite, or soma)3
. This makes it important to develop a new culture system that allows separation of neuronal compartments and specifically examines the interaction between glia and neuronal axons/dendrites. In addition, the conventional mixed culture system is not capable of differentiating the soluble factors and direct membrane contact signals between neuron and glia. Furthermore, the large quantity of neurons and glial cells in the conventional co-culture system lacks the resolution necessary to observe the interaction between a single axon and a glial cell.
In this study, we describe a novel axon and glia co-culture system with the use of a microfluidic culture platform (MCP). In this co-culture system, neurons and glial cells are cultured in two separate chambers that are connected through multiple central channels. In this microfluidic culture platform, only neuronal processes (especially axons) can enter the glial side through the central channels. In combination with powerful fluorescent protein labeling, this system allows direct examination of signaling pathways between axonal/dendritic and glial interactions, such as axon-mediated transcriptional regulation in glia, glia-mediated receptor trafficking in neuronal terminals, and glia-mediated axon growth. The narrow diameter of the chamber also significantly prohibits the flow of the neuron-enriched medium into the glial chamber, facilitating probing of the direct membrane-protein interaction between axons/dendrites and glial surfaces.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Microfluidics, Microfluidic culture platform, Compartmented culture, Neuron to glia signaling, neurons, glia, cell culture
Genetic Study of Axon Regeneration with Cultured Adult Dorsal Root Ganglion Neurons
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
It is well known that mature neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) cannot regenerate their axons after injuries due to diminished intrinsic ability to support axon growth and a hostile environment in the mature CNS1,2
. In contrast, mature neurons in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) regenerate readily after injuries3
. Adult dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons are well known to regenerate robustly after peripheral nerve injuries. Each DRG neuron grows one axon from the cell soma, which branches into two axonal branches: a peripheral branch innervating peripheral targets and a central branch extending into the spinal cord. Injury of the DRG peripheral axons results in substantial axon regeneration, whereas central axons in the spinal cord regenerate poorly after the injury. However, if the peripheral axonal injury occurs prior to the spinal cord injury (a process called the conditioning lesion), regeneration of central axons is greatly improved4
. Moreover, the central axons of DRG neurons share the same hostile environment as descending corticospinal axons in the spinal cord. Together, it is hypothesized that the molecular mechanisms controlling axon regeneration of adult DRG neurons can be harnessed to enhance CNS axon regeneration. As a result, adult DRG neurons are now widely used as a model system to study regenerative axon growth5-7
Here we describe a method of adult DRG neuron culture that can be used for genetic study of axon regeneration in vitro
. In this model adult DRG neurons are genetically manipulated via electroporation-mediated gene transfection6,8
. By transfecting neurons with DNA plasmid or si/shRNA, this approach enables both gain- and loss-of-function experiments to investigate the role of any gene-of-interest in axon growth from adult DRG neurons. When neurons are transfected with si/shRNA, the targeted endogenous protein is usually depleted after 3-4 days in culture, during which time robust axon growth has already occurred, making the loss-of-function studies less effective. To solve this problem, the method described here includes a re-suspension and re-plating step after transfection, which allows axons to re-grow from neurons in the absence of the targeted protein. Finally, we provide an example of using this in vitro
model to study the role of an axon regeneration-associated gene, c-Jun, in mediating axon growth from adult DRG neurons9
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Physiology, Developmental Biology, cell culture, axon regeneration, axon growth, dorsal root ganglion, spinal cord injury
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
Impulsive Pressurization of Neuronal Cells for Traumatic Brain Injury Study
Institutions: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
A novel impulsive cell pressurization experiment has been developed using a Kolsky bar device to investigate blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI). We demonstrate in this video article how blast TBI-relevant impulsive pressurization is applied to the neuronal cells in vitro. This is achieved by using well-controlled pressure pulse created by a specialized Kolsky bar device, with complete pressure history within the cell pressurization chamber recorded. Pressurized neuronal cells are inspected immediately after pressurization, or further incubated to examine the long-term effects of impulsive pressurization on neurite/axonal outgrowth, neuronal gene expression, apoptosis, etc. We observed that impulsive pressurization at about 2 MPa induces distinct neurite loss relative to unpressurized cells. Our technique provides a novel method to investigate the molecular/cellular mechanisms of blast TBI, via impulsive pressurization of brain cells at well-controlled pressure magnitude and duration.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Neuroscience, Traumatic Brain Injury, Neuronal Cells, Neurons, Impulsive Pressurization, Blast-TBI
Study Glial Cell Heterogeneity Influence on Axon Growth Using a New Coculture Method
Institutions: Cedars Sinai Medical Center, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical University, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical Univeristy.
In the central nervous system of all mammals, severed axons after injury are unable to regenerate to their original targets and functional recovery is very poor 1
. The failure of axon regeneration is a combined result of several factors including the hostile glial cell environment, inhibitory myelin related molecules and decreased intrinsic neuron regenerative capacity 2
. Astrocytes are the most predominant glial cell type in central nervous system and play important role in axon functions under physiology and pathology conditions 3
. Contrast to the homologous oligodendrocytes, astrocytes are a heterogeneous cell population composed by different astrocyte subpopulations with diverse morphologies and gene expression 4
. The functional significance of this heterogeneity, such as their influences on axon growth, is largely unknown.
To study the glial cell, especially the function of astrocyte heterogeneity in neuron behavior, we established a new method by co-culturing high purified dorsal root ganglia neurons with glial cells obtained from the rat cortex. By this technique, we were able to directly compare neuron adhesion and axon growth on different astrocytes subpopulations under the same condition.
In this report, we give the detailed protocol of this method for astrocytes isolation and culture, dorsal root ganglia neurons isolation and purification, and the co-culture of DRG neurons with astrocytes. This method could also be extended to other brain regions to study cellular or regional specific interaction between neurons and glial cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, Dorsal root ganglia, glial cell, heterogeneity, co-culture, regeneration, axon growth
RhoC GTPase Activation Assay
Institutions: University of Delaware.
RhoC GTPase has 91% homology to RhoA GTPase. Because of its prevalence in cells, many reagents and techniques for RhoA GTPase have been developed. However, RhoC GTPase is expressed in metastatic cancer cells at relatively low levels. Therefore, few RhoC-specific reagents have been developed. We have adapted a Rho activation assay to detect RhoC GTPase. This technique utilizes a GST-Rho binding domain fusion protein to pull out active RhoC GTPase. In addition, we can harvest total protein at the beginning of the assay to determine levels of total (GTP and GDP bound) RhoC GTPase. This allows for the determination of active versus total RhoC GTPase in the cell. Several commercial versions of this procedure have been developed however, the commercial kits are optimized for RhoA GTPase and typically do not work well for RhoC GTPase. Parts of the assay have been modified as well as development of a RhoC-specific antibody.
neuroscience, Issue 42, brain, mouse, transplantation, labeling
An In Vitro Dormancy Model of Estrogen-sensitive Breast Cancer in the Bone Marrow: A Tool for Molecular Mechanism Studies and Hypothesis Generation
Institutions: Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
The study of breast cancer dormancy in the bone marrow is an exceptionally difficult undertaking due to the complexity of the interactions of dormant cells with their microenvironment, their rarity and the overwhelming excess of hematopoietic cells. Towards this end, we developed an in vitro
2D clonogenic model of dormancy of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells in the bone marrow. The model consists of a few key elements necessary for dormancy. These include 1) the use of estrogen sensitive breast cancer cells, which are the type likely to remain dormant for extended periods, 2) incubation of cells at clonogenic density, where the structural interaction of each cell is primarily with the substratum, 3) fibronectin, a key structural element of the marrow and 4) FGF-2, a growth factor abundantly synthesized by bone marrow stromal cells and heavily deposited in the extracellular matrix. Cells incubated with FGF-2 form dormant clones after 6 days, which consist of 12 or less cells that have a distinct flat appearance, are significantly larger and more spread out than growing cells and have large cytoplasm to nucleus ratios. In contrast, cells incubated without FGF-2 form primarily growing colonies consisting of >30 relatively small cells. Perturbations of the system with antibodies, inhibitors, peptides or nucleic acids on day 3 after incubation can significantly affect various phenotypic and molecular aspects of the dormant cells at 6 days and can be used to assess the roles of membrane-localized or intracellular molecules, factors or signaling pathways on the dormant state or survival of dormant cells. While recognizing the in vitro
nature of the assay, it can function as a highly useful tool to glean significant information about the molecular mechanisms necessary for establishment and survival of dormant cells. This data can be used to generate hypotheses to be tested in vivo
Medicine, Issue 100, Dormancy, Bone marrow stroma, FGF-2, Fibronectin, Breast cancer, Colony assay