Commissural neurons have been widely used to investigate the mechanisms underlying axon guidance during embryonic spinal cord development. The cell bodies of these neurons are located in the dorsal spinal cord and their axons follow stereotyped trajectories during embryonic development. Commissural axons initially project ventrally towards the floorplate. After crossing the midline, these axons turn anteriorly and project towards the brain. Each of these steps is regulated by the action of several guidance cues. Cultures highly enriched in commissural neurons are ideally suited for many experiments addressing the mechanisms of axon pathfinding, including turning assays, immunochemistry and biochemistry. Here, we describe a method to dissect and culture commissural neurons from E13 rat dorsal spinal cord. First, the spinal cord is isolated and dorsal strips are dissected out. The dorsal tissue is then dissociated into a cell suspension by trypsinization and mechanical disruption. Neurons are plated onto poly-L-lysine-coated glass coverslips or tissue-culture dishes. After 30 hours in vitro, most neurons have extended an axon. The purity of the culture (Yam et al. 2009), typically over 90%, can be assessed by immunolabeling with the commissural neuron markers DCC, LH2 and TAG1 (Helms and Johnson, 1998). This neuronal preparation is a useful tool for in vitro studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of commissural axon growth and guidance during spinal cord development.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Drug-induced Sensitization of Adenylyl Cyclase: Assay Streamlining and Miniaturization for Small Molecule and siRNA Screening Applications
Institutions: Purdue University, Eli Lilly and Company.
Sensitization of adenylyl cyclase (AC) signaling has been implicated in a variety of neuropsychiatric and neurologic disorders including substance abuse and Parkinson's disease. Acute activation of Gαi/o-linked receptors inhibits AC activity, whereas persistent activation of these receptors results in heterologous sensitization of AC and increased levels of intracellular cAMP. Previous studies have demonstrated that this enhancement of AC responsiveness is observed both in vitro
and in vivo
following the chronic activation of several types of Gαi/o-linked receptors including D2
dopamine and μ opioid receptors. Although heterologous sensitization of AC was first reported four decades ago, the mechanism(s) that underlie this phenomenon remain largely unknown. The lack of mechanistic data presumably reflects the complexity involved with this adaptive response, suggesting that nonbiased approaches could aid in identifying the molecular pathways involved in heterologous sensitization of AC. Previous studies have implicated kinase and Gbγ signaling as overlapping components that regulate the heterologous sensitization of AC. To identify unique and additional overlapping targets associated with sensitization of AC, the development and validation of a scalable cAMP sensitization assay is required for greater throughput. Previous approaches to study sensitization are generally cumbersome involving continuous cell culture maintenance as well as a complex methodology for measuring cAMP accumulation that involves multiple wash steps. Thus, the development of a robust cell-based assay that can be used for high throughput screening (HTS) in a 384 well format would facilitate future studies. Using two D2
dopamine receptor cellular models (i.e
), we have converted our 48-well sensitization assay (>20 steps 4-5 days) to a five-step, single day assay in 384-well format. This new format is amenable to small molecule screening, and we demonstrate that this assay design can also be readily used for reverse transfection of siRNA in anticipation of targeted siRNA library screening.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, adenylyl cyclase, cAMP, heterologous sensitization, superactivation, D2 dopamine, μ opioid, siRNA
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
In Vitro Aggregation Assays Using Hyperphosphorylated Tau Protein
Institutions: Michigan State University.
Alzheimer's disease is one of a large group of neurodegenerative disorders known as tauopathies that are manifested by the neuronal deposits of hyperphosphorylated tau protein in the form of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). The density of NFT correlates well with cognitive impairment and other neurodegenerative symptoms, thus prompting the endeavor of developing tau aggregation-based therapeutics. Thus far, however, tau aggregation assays use recombinant or synthetic tau that is devoid of the pathology-related phosphorylation marks. Here we describe two assays using recombinant, hyperphosphorylated tau as the subject. These assays can be scaled up for high-throughput screens for compounds that can modulate the kinetics or stability of hyperphosphorylated tau aggregates. Novel therapeutics for Alzheimer's disease and other tauopathies can potentially be discovered using hyperphosphorylated tau isoforms.
Biochemistry, Issue 95, tau, Alzheimer's Disease, tauopathy, phosphorylation, amyloid, Zippers-Assisted Catalysis, protein aggregation, neurofibrillary tangles
Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro
using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro
. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo
. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo
tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro
and in vivo
and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
Isolation and Culture of Dissociated Sensory Neurons From Chick Embryos
Institutions: Assumption College.
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.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, dorsal root gangia, DRG, chicken, in vitro, avian, laminin-1, embryonic, primary
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
Using plusTipTracker Software to Measure Microtubule Dynamics in Xenopus laevis Growth Cones
Institutions: Boston College.
Microtubule (MT) plus-end-tracking proteins (+TIPs) localize to the growing plus-ends of MTs and regulate MT dynamics1,2
. One of the most well-known and widely-utilized +TIPs for analyzing MT dynamics is the End-Binding protein, EB1, which binds all growing MT plus-ends, and thus, is a marker for MT polymerization1
. Many studies of EB1 behavior within growth cones have used time-consuming and biased computer-assisted, hand-tracking methods to analyze individual MTs1-3
. Our approach is to quantify global parameters of MT dynamics using the software package, plusTipTracker4
, following the acquisition of high-resolution, live images of tagged EB1 in cultured embryonic growth cones5
. This software is a MATLAB-based, open-source, user-friendly package that combines automated detection, tracking, visualization, and analysis for movies of fluorescently-labeled +TIPs. Here, we present the protocol for using plusTipTracker for the analysis of fluorescently-labeled +TIP comets in cultured Xenopus laevis
growth cones. However, this software can also be used to characterize MT dynamics in various cell types6-8
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, plusTipTracker, microtubule plus-end-tracking proteins, EB1, growth cone, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging analysis, microtubule dynamics
Functional Reconstitution and Channel Activity Measurements of Purified Wildtype and Mutant CFTR Protein
Institutions: Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
The Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) is a unique channel-forming member of the ATP Binding Cassette (ABC) superfamily of transporters. The phosphorylation and nucleotide dependent chloride channel activity of CFTR has been frequently studied in whole cell systems and as single channels in excised membrane patches. Many Cystic Fibrosis-causing mutations have been shown to alter this activity. While a small number of purification protocols have been published, a fast reconstitution method that retains channel activity and a suitable method for studying population channel activity in a purified system have been lacking. Here rapid methods are described for purification and functional reconstitution of the full-length CFTR protein into proteoliposomes of defined lipid composition that retains activity as a regulated halide channel. This reconstitution method together with a novel flux-based assay of channel activity is a suitable system for studying the population channel properties of wild type CFTR and the disease-causing mutants F508del- and G551D-CFTR. Specifically, the method has utility in studying the direct effects of phosphorylation, nucleotides and small molecules such as potentiators and inhibitors on CFTR channel activity. The methods are also amenable to the study of other membrane channels/transporters for anionic substrates.
Biochemistry, Issue 97, Cystic Fibrosis, CFTR, purification, reconstitution, chloride channel, channel function, iodide efflux, potentiation
Forward Genetics Screens Using Macrophages to Identify Toxoplasma gondii Genes Important for Resistance to IFN-γ-Dependent Cell Autonomous Immunity
Institutions: New York Medical College.
the causative agent of toxoplasmosis, is an obligate intracellular protozoan pathogen. The parasite invades and replicates within virtually any warm blooded vertebrate cell type. During parasite invasion of a host cell, the parasite creates a parasitophorous vacuole (PV) that originates from the host cell membrane independent of phagocytosis within which the parasite replicates. While IFN-dependent-innate and cell mediated immunity is important for eventual control of infection, innate immune cells, including neutrophils, monocytes and dendritic cells, can also serve as vehicles for systemic dissemination of the parasite early in infection. An approach is described that utilizes the host innate immune response, in this case macrophages, in a forward genetic screen to identify parasite mutants with a fitness defect in infected macrophages following activation but normal invasion and replication in naïve macrophages. Thus, the screen isolates parasite mutants that have a specific defect in their ability to resist the effects of macrophage activation. The paper describes two broad phenotypes of mutant parasites following activation of infected macrophages: parasite stasis versus parasite degradation, often in amorphous vacuoles. The parasite mutants are then analyzed to identify the responsible parasite genes specifically important for resistance to induced mediators of cell autonomous immunity. The paper presents a general approach for the forward genetics screen that, in theory, can be modified to target parasite genes important for resistance to specific antimicrobial mediators. It also describes an approach to evaluate the specific macrophage antimicrobial mediators to which the parasite mutant is susceptible. Activation of infected macrophages can also promote parasite differentiation from the tachyzoite to bradyzoite stage that maintains chronic infection. Therefore, methodology is presented to evaluate the importance of the identified parasite gene to establishment of chronic infection.
Immunology, Issue 97, Toxoplasma, macrophages, innate immunity, intracellular pathogen, immune evasion, infectious disease, forward genetics, parasite
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
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
Use of pHluorin to Assess the Dynamics of Axon Guidance Receptors in Cell Culture and in the Chick Embryo
Institutions: University of Lyon.
axon guidance receptors play a crucial role in regulating axons sensitivity to both attractive and repulsive cues. Indeed, activation of the guidance receptors is the first step of the signaling mechanisms allowing axon tips, the growth cones, to respond to the ligands. As such, the modulation of their availability at the cell surface is one of the mechanisms that participate in setting the growth cone sensitivity. We describe here a method to precisely visualize the spatio-temporal cell surface dynamics of an axon guidance receptor both in vitro
and in vivo
in the developing chick spinal cord. We took advantage of the pH-dependent fluorescence property of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) variant to specifically detect the fraction of the axon guidance receptor that is addressed to the plasma membrane. We first describe the in vitro
validation of such pH-dependent constructs and we further detail their use in vivo
, in the chick spinal chord, to assess the spatio-temporal dynamics of the axon guidance receptor of interest.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Neurons, Axons, Cell Differentiation, Embryonic Development, Life Sciences (General), Axon guidance receptor, trafficking, pHluorin, in ovo electroporation, commissural neurons, Plexin,
Assaying the Ability of Diffusible Signaling Molecules to Reorient Embryonic Spinal Commissural Axons
Institutions: University of Southern California, University of Southern California.
Dorsal commissural axons in the vertebrate spinal cord1
have been an invaluable model system in which to identify axon guidance signals. Here, we describe an in vitro
assay, "the reorientation assay", that has been used extensively to study the effect of extrinsic and intrinsic signals on the orientation of commissural axons2
. This assay was developed by numerous people in the laboratories of Jane Dodd, Thomas Jessell and Andrew Lumsden (see acknowledgements for more details) and versions of this assay were used to demonstrate the reorientation activities of key axon guidance molecules, including the BMP chemorepellent in the roof plate3,4
and the chemoattractive activities of Netrin15
and Sonic Hedgehog (Shh)6
in the floor plate in the spinal cord.
Explants comprising 2-3 segments of the dorsal two-thirds of spinal cord are dissected from embryonic day (E) 11 rats and cultured in three dimensional collagen gels7
. E11 dorsal spinal explants contain newly born commissural neurons, which can be identified by their axonal expression of the glycoprotein, Tag18
. Over the course of 30-40 hours in culture, the commissural axon trajectory is recapitulated in these dorsal explants with a time course similar to that seen in vivo
. This axonal trajectory can be challenged by placing either test tissues or a COS cell aggregate expressing a candidate signaling molecule in contact with one of the lateral edges of the dorsal explant. Commissural axons extending in the vicinity of the appended tissue will grow under the influence of both the endogenous roof plate and signals from the ectopic lateral tissue. The degree to which commissural axons are reoriented under these circumstances can be quantified. Using this assay, it is possible both to examine the sufficiency of a particular signal to reorient commissural axons3,4
as well the necessity for this signal to direct the commissural trajectory9
Neuroscience, Issue 37, commissural axons, spinal cord, rat, explant, collagen, COS cells, bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs)
Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6
. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7
. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant.
Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10
. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12
. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10
Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
DiI-Labeling of DRG Neurons to Study Axonal Branching in a Whole Mount Preparation of Mouse Embryonic Spinal Cord
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Here we present a technique to label the trajectories of small groups of DRG neurons into the embryonic spinal cord by diffusive staining using the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)1
. The comparison of axonal pathways of wild-type with those of mouse lines in which genes are mutated allows testing for a functional role of candidate proteins in the control of axonal branching which is an essential mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system. Axonal branching enables an individual neuron to connect with multiple targets, thereby providing the physical basis for the parallel processing of information. Ramifications at intermediate target regions of axonal growth may be distinguished from terminal arborization. Furthermore, different modes of axonal branch formation may be classified depending on whether branching results from the activities of the growth cone (splitting or delayed branching) or from the budding of collaterals from the axon shaft in a process called interstitial branching2
The central projections of neurons from the DRG offer a useful experimental system to study both types of axonal branching: when their afferent axons reach the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) of the spinal cord between embryonic days 10 to 13 (E10 - E13) they display a stereotyped pattern of T- or Y-shaped bifurcation. The two resulting daughter axons then proceed in rostral or caudal directions, respectively, at the dorsolateral margin of the cord and only after a waiting period collaterals sprout from these stem axons to penetrate the gray matter (interstitial branching) and project to relay neurons in specific laminae of the spinal cord where they further arborize (terminal branching)3
. DiI tracings have revealed growth cones at the dorsal root entry zone of the spinal cord that appeared to be in the process of splitting suggesting that bifurcation is caused by splitting of the growth cone itself4
), however, other options have been discussed as well5
This video demonstrates first how to dissect the spinal cord of E12.5 mice leaving the DRG attached. Following fixation of the specimen tiny amounts of DiI are applied to DRG using glass needles pulled from capillary tubes. After an incubation step, the labeled spinal cord is mounted as an inverted open-book preparation to analyze individual axons using fluorescence microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, neurons, axonal branching, DRG, Spinal cord, DiI labeling, cGMP signaling
Dissection and Culture of Mouse Dopaminergic and Striatal Explants in Three-Dimensional Collagen Matrix Assays
Institutions: University Medical Center Utrecht.
Midbrain dopamine (mdDA) neurons project via the medial forebrain bundle towards several areas in the telencephalon, including the striatum1
. Reciprocally, medium spiny neurons in the striatum that give rise to the striatonigral (direct) pathway innervate the substantia nigra2
. The development of these axon tracts is dependent upon the combinatorial actions of a plethora of axon growth and guidance cues including molecules that are released by neurites or by (intermediate) target regions3,4
. These soluble factors can be studied in vitro
by culturing mdDA and/or striatal explants in a collagen matrix which provides a three-dimensional substrate for the axons mimicking the extracellular environment. In addition, the collagen matrix allows for the formation of relatively stable gradients of proteins released by other explants or cells placed in the vicinity (e.g. see references 5 and 6). Here we describe methods for the purification of rat tail collagen, microdissection of dopaminergic and striatal explants, their culture in collagen gels and subsequent immunohistochemical and quantitative analysis. First, the brains of E14.5 mouse embryos are isolated and dopaminergic and striatal explants are microdissected. These explants are then (co)cultured in collagen gels on coverslips for 48 to 72 hours in vitro
. Subsequently, axonal projections are visualized using neuronal markers (e.g. tyrosine hydroxylase, DARPP32, or βIII tubulin) and axon growth and attractive or repulsive axon responses are quantified. This neuronal preparation is a useful tool for in vitro
studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of mesostriatal and striatonigral axon growth and guidance during development. Using this assay, it is also possible to assess other (intermediate) targets for dopaminergic and striatal axons or to test specific molecular cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Axon guidance, collagen matrix, development, dissection, dopamine, medium spiny neuron, rat tail collagen, striatum, striatonigral, mesostriatal
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
Neural Explant Cultures from Xenopus laevis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
The complex process of axon guidance is largely driven by the growth cone, which is the dynamic motile structure at the tip of the growing axon. During axon outgrowth, the growth cone must integrate multiple sources of guidance cue information to modulate its cytoskeleton in order to propel the growth cone forward and accurately navigate to find its specific targets1
. How this integration occurs at the cytoskeletal level is still emerging, and examination of cytoskeletal protein and effector dynamics within the growth cone can allow the elucidation of these mechanisms. Xenopus laevis
growth cones are large enough (10-30 microns in diameter) to perform high-resolution live imaging of cytoskeletal dynamics (e.g.2-4
) and are easy to isolate and manipulate in a lab setting compared to other vertebrates. The frog is a classic model system for developmental neurobiology studies, and important early insights into growth cone microtubule dynamics were initially found using this system5-7
. In this method8
, eggs are collected and fertilized in vitro
, injected with RNA encoding fluorescently tagged cytoskeletal fusion proteins or other constructs to manipulate gene expression, and then allowed to develop to the neural tube stage. Neural tubes are isolated by dissection and then are cultured, and growth cones on outgrowing neurites are imaged. In this article, we describe how to perform this method, the goal of which is to culture Xenopus laevis
growth cones for subsequent high-resolution image analysis. While we provide the example of +TIP fusion protein EB1-GFP, this method can be applied to any number of proteins to elucidate their behaviors within the growth cone.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Growth cone, neural explant, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging, cytoskeletal dynamics, cell culture
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
Biochemical Titration of Glycogen In vitro
Institutions: University of Nice - Sophia Antipolis.
Glycogen is the main energetic polymer of glucose in vertebrate animals and plays a crucial role in whole body metabolism as well as in cellular metabolism. Many methods to detect glycogen already exist but only a few are quantitative. We describe here a method using the Abcam Glycogen assay kit, which is based on specific degradation of glycogen to glucose by glucoamylase. Glucose is then specifically oxidized to a product that reacts with the OxiRed probe to produce fluorescence. Titration is accurate, sensitive and can be achieved on cell extracts or tissue sections. However, in contrast to other techniques, it does not give information about the distribution of glycogen in the cell. As an example of this technique, we describe here the titration of glycogen in two cell lines, Chinese hamster lung fibroblast CCL39 and human colon carcinoma LS174, incubated in normoxia (21% O2
) versus hypoxia (1% O2
). We hypothesized that hypoxia is a signal that prepares cells to synthesize and store glycogen in order to survive1
Basic Protocol, Issue 81, Glycogen, Glucoamylase, Fluorescence, Oxidation, Periodic Acid Shiff staining (PAS)
Induction and Analysis of Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition
Institutions: R&D Systems, Inc., R&D Systems, Inc..
Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is essential for proper morphogenesis during development. Misregulation of this process has been implicated as a key event in fibrosis and the progression of carcinomas to a metastatic state. Understanding the processes that underlie EMT is imperative for the early diagnosis and clinical control of these disease states. Reliable induction of EMT in vitro
is a useful tool for drug discovery as well as to identify common gene expression signatures for diagnostic purposes. Here we demonstrate a straightforward method for the induction of EMT in a variety of cell types. Methods for the analysis of cells pre- and post-EMT induction by immunocytochemistry are also included. Additionally, we demonstrate the effectiveness of this method through antibody-based array analysis and migration/invasion assays.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Stem Cell Biology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Bioengineering, Anatomy, Physiology, biology (general), Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Wounds and Injuries, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Epithelial to mesenchymal transition, EMT, cancer, metastasis, cancer stem cell, cell, assay, immunohistochemistry
A Guided Materials Screening Approach for Developing Quantitative Sol-gel Derived Protein Microarrays
Institutions: McMaster University .
Microarrays have found use in the development of high-throughput assays for new materials and discovery of small-molecule drug leads. Herein we describe a guided material screening approach to identify sol-gel based materials that are suitable for producing three-dimensional protein microarrays. The approach first identifies materials that can be printed as microarrays, narrows down the number of materials by identifying those that are compatible with a given enzyme assay, and then hones in on optimal materials based on retention of maximum enzyme activity. This approach is applied to develop microarrays suitable for two different enzyme assays, one using acetylcholinesterase and the other using a set of four key kinases involved in cancer. In each case, it was possible to produce microarrays that could be used for quantitative small-molecule screening assays and production of dose-dependent inhibitor response curves. Importantly, the ability to screen many materials produced information on the types of materials that best suited both microarray production and retention of enzyme activity. The materials data provide insight into basic material requirements necessary for tailoring optimal, high-density sol-gel derived microarrays.
Chemistry, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Biology, Biocompatible Materials, Siloxanes, Enzymes, Immobilized, chemical analysis techniques, chemistry (general), materials (general), spectroscopic analysis (chemistry), polymer matrix composites, testing of materials (composite materials), Sol-gel, microarray, high-throughput screening, acetylcholinesterase, kinase, drug discovery, assay
Dissection and Lateral Mounting of Zebrafish Embryos: Analysis of Spinal Cord Development
Institutions: Skidmore College.
The zebrafish spinal cord is an effective investigative model for nervous system research for several reasons. First, genetic, transgenic and gene knockdown approaches can be utilized to examine the molecular mechanisms underlying nervous system development. Second, large clutches of developmentally synchronized embryos provide large experimental sample sizes. Third, the optical clarity of the zebrafish embryo permits researchers to visualize progenitor, glial, and neuronal populations. Although zebrafish embryos are transparent, specimen thickness can impede effective microscopic visualization. One reason for this is the tandem development of the spinal cord and overlying somite tissue. Another reason is the large yolk ball, which is still present during periods of early neurogenesis. In this article, we demonstrate microdissection and removal of the yolk in fixed embryos, which allows microscopic visualization while preserving surrounding somite tissue. We also demonstrate semipermanent mounting of zebrafish embryos. This permits observation of neurodevelopment in the dorso-ventral and anterior-posterior axes, as it preserves the three-dimensionality of the tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Spinal Cord, Zebrafish, Microscopy, Confocal, Embryonic Development, Nervous System, dissection and mounting, mounting embryos, dissecting embryos
Detection of Axonally Localized mRNAs in Brain Sections Using High-Resolution In Situ Hybridization
Institutions: Columbia University.
mRNAs are frequently localized to vertebrate axons and their local translation is required for axon pathfinding or branching during development and for maintenance, repair or neurodegeneration in postdevelopmental periods. High throughput analyses have recently revealed that axons have a more dynamic and complex transcriptome than previously expected. These analysis, however have been mostly done in cultured neurons where axons can be isolated from the somato-dendritic compartments. It is virtually impossible to achieve such isolation in whole tissues in vivo
. Thus, in order to verify the recruitment of mRNAs and their functional relevance in a whole animal, transcriptome analyses should ideally be combined with techniques that allow the visualization of mRNAs in situ
. Recently, novel ISH technologies that detect RNAs at a single-molecule level have been developed. This is especially important when analyzing the subcellular localization of mRNA, since localized RNAs are typically found at low levels. Here we describe two protocols for the detection of axonally-localized mRNAs using a novel ultrasensitive RNA ISH technology. We have combined RNAscope ISH with axonal counterstain using fluorescence immunohistochemistry or histological dyes to verify the recruitment of Atf4
mRNA to axons in vivo
in the mature mouse and human brains.
Neuroscience, Issue 100, mRNA localization, axons, in situ hybridization, RNAscope, in vivo, adult brain