Astrocytes are an abundant cell type in the mammalian brain, yet much remains to be learned about their molecular and functional characteristics. In vitro astrocyte cell culture systems can be used to study the biological functions of these glial cells in detail. This video protocol shows how to obtain pure astrocytes by isolation and culture of mixed cortical cells of mouse pups. The method is based on the absence of viable neurons and the separation of astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and microglia, the three main glial cell populations of the central nervous system, in culture. Representative images during the first days of culture demonstrate the presence of a mixed cell population and indicate the timepoint, when astrocytes become confluent and should be separated from microglia and oligodendrocytes. Moreover, we demonstrate purity and astrocytic morphology of cultured astrocytes using immunocytochemical stainings for well established and newly described astrocyte markers. This culture system can be easily used to obtain pure mouse astrocytes and astrocyte-conditioned medium for studying various aspects of astrocyte biology.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
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
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
Imaging Intracellular Ca2+ Signals in Striatal Astrocytes from Adult Mice Using Genetically-encoded Calcium Indicators
Institutions: University of California Los Angeles, University of California Los Angeles.
Astrocytes display spontaneous intracellular Ca2+
concentration fluctuations ([Ca2+
) and in several settings respond to neuronal excitation with enhanced [Ca2+
signals. It has been proposed that astrocytes in turn regulate neurons and blood vessels through calcium-dependent mechanisms, such as the release of signaling molecules. However, [Ca2+
imaging in entire astrocytes has only recently become feasible with genetically encoded calcium indicators (GECIs) such as the GCaMP series. The use of GECIs in astrocytes now provides opportunities to study astrocyte [Ca2+
signals in detail within model microcircuits such as the striatum, which is the largest nucleus of the basal ganglia. In the present report, detailed surgical methods to express GECIs in astrocytes in vivo,
and confocal imaging approaches to record [Ca2+
signals in striatal astrocytes in situ,
are described. We highlight precautions, necessary controls and tests to determine if GECI expression is selective for astrocytes and to evaluate signs of overt astrocyte reactivity. We also describe brain slice and imaging conditions in detail that permit reliable [Ca2+
imaging in striatal astrocytes in situ
. The use of these approaches revealed the entire territories of single striatal astrocytes and spontaneous [Ca2+
signals within their somata, branches and branchlets. The further use and expansion of these approaches in the striatum will allow for the detailed study of astrocyte [Ca2+
signals in the striatal microcircuitry.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, astrocyte, calcium, striatum, GECI, GCaMP3, AAV2/5, stereotaxic injection, brain slice, imaging
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
Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Functional Genomic Analysis of Candidate Cooperative Genes in Tumor Pathogenesis
Institutions: Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Center for Individualized Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic.
Comprehensive genomic analysis has uncovered surprisingly large numbers of genetic alterations in various types of cancers. To robustly and efficiently identify oncogenic “drivers” among these tumors and define their complex relationships with concurrent genetic alterations during tumor pathogenesis remains a daunting task. Recently, zebrafish have emerged as an important animal model for studying human diseases, largely because of their ease of maintenance, high fecundity, obvious advantages for in vivo
imaging, high conservation of oncogenes and their molecular pathways, susceptibility to tumorigenesis and, most importantly, the availability of transgenic techniques suitable for use in the fish. Transgenic zebrafish models of cancer have been widely used to dissect oncogenic pathways in diverse tumor types. However, developing a stable transgenic fish model is both tedious and time-consuming, and it is even more difficult and more time-consuming to dissect the cooperation of multiple genes in disease pathogenesis using this approach, which requires the generation of multiple transgenic lines with overexpression of the individual genes of interest followed by complicated breeding of these stable transgenic lines. Hence, use of a mosaic transient transgenic approach in zebrafish offers unique advantages for functional genomic analysis in vivo
. Briefly, candidate transgenes can be coinjected into one-cell-stage wild-type or transgenic zebrafish embryos and allowed to integrate together into each somatic cell in a mosaic pattern that leads to mixed genotypes in the same primarily injected animal. This permits one to investigate in a faster and less expensive manner whether and how the candidate genes can collaborate with each other to drive tumorigenesis. By transient overexpression of activated ALK
in the transgenic fish overexpressing MYCN
, we demonstrate here the cooperation of these two oncogenes in the pathogenesis of a pediatric cancer, neuroblastoma that has resisted most forms of contemporary treatment.
Developmental Biology, Issue 97, zebrafish, animal model, mosaic transgenesis, coinjection, functional genomics, tumor initiation
Derivation of Adult Human Fibroblasts and their Direct Conversion into Expandable Neural Progenitor Cells
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Bonn, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg.
Generation of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSCs) from adult skin fibroblasts and subsequent differentiation into somatic cells provides fascinating prospects for the derivation of autologous transplants that circumvent histocompatibility barriers. However, progression through a pluripotent state and subsequent complete differentiation into desired lineages remains a roadblock for the clinical translation of iPSC technology because of the associated neoplastic potential and genomic instability. Recently, we and others showed that somatic cells cannot only be converted into iPSCs but also into different types of multipotent somatic stem cells by using defined factors, thereby circumventing progression through the pluripotent state. In particular, the direct conversion of human fibroblasts into induced neural progenitor cells (iNPCs) heralds the possibility of a novel autologous cell source for various applications such as cell replacement, disease modeling and drug screening. Here, we describe the isolation of adult human primary fibroblasts by skin biopsy and their efficient direct conversion into iNPCs by timely restricted expression of Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, as well as c-Myc. Sox2-positive neuroepithelial colonies appear after 17 days of induction and iNPC lines can be established efficiently by monoclonal isolation and expansion. Precise adjustment of viral multiplicity of infection and supplementation of leukemia inhibitory factor during the induction phase represent critical factors to achieve conversion efficiencies of up to 0.2%. Thus far, patient-specific iNPC lines could be expanded for more than 12 passages and uniformly display morphological and molecular features of neural stem/progenitor cells, such as the expression of Nestin and Sox2. The iNPC lines can be differentiated into neurons and astrocytes as judged by staining against TUJ1 and GFAP, respectively. In conclusion, we report a robust protocol for the derivation and direct conversion of human fibroblasts into stably expandable neural progenitor cells that might provide a cellular source for biomedical applications such as autologous neural cell replacement and disease modeling.
Neuroscience, Issue 101, Direct conversion, lineage reprogramming, transgene-free reprogrammed cells, neural stem cells, transdifferentiation, neuronal differentiation, glial differentiation, stem cell biology, disease modeling, neural cell replacement, stem cell therapy.
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
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),
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
Dual Electrophysiological Recordings of Synaptically-evoked Astroglial and Neuronal Responses in Acute Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: Collège de France, Paris Diderot University.
Astrocytes form together with neurons tripartite synapses, where they integrate and modulate neuronal activity. Indeed, astrocytes sense neuronal inputs through activation of their ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors, and process information in part through activity-dependent release of gliotransmitters. Furthermore, astrocytes constitute the main uptake system for glutamate, contribute to potassium spatial buffering, as well as to GABA clearance. These cells therefore constantly monitor synaptic activity, and are thereby sensitive indicators for alterations in synaptically-released glutamate, GABA and extracellular potassium levels. Additionally, alterations in astroglial uptake activity or buffering capacity can have severe effects on neuronal functions, and might be overlooked when characterizing physiopathological situations or knockout mice. Dual recording of neuronal and astroglial activities is therefore an important method to study alterations in synaptic strength associated to concomitant changes in astroglial uptake and buffering capacities. Here we describe how to prepare hippocampal slices, how to identify stratum radiatum
astrocytes, and how to record simultaneously neuronal and astroglial electrophysiological responses. Furthermore, we describe how to isolate pharmacologically the synaptically-evoked astroglial currents.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, hippocampus preparation, acute brain slice, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, neurons, astrocytes, astroglial, neuroglial interactions, glutamate transporter current, potassium current, paired recordings, synaptic activity, synaptically-evoked responses
Quantitative Comparison of cis-Regulatory Element (CRE) Activities in Transgenic Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: University of Dayton, University of Dayton.
Gene expression patterns are specified by cis
-regulatory element (CRE) sequences, which are also called enhancers or cis-regulatory modules. A typical CRE possesses an arrangement of binding sites for several transcription factor proteins that confer a regulatory logic specifying when, where, and at what level the regulated gene(s) is expressed. The full set of CREs within an animal genome encodes the organism′s program for development1
, and empirical as well as theoretical studies indicate that mutations in CREs played a prominent role in morphological evolution2-4
. Moreover, human genome wide association studies indicate that genetic variation in CREs contribute substantially to phenotypic variation5,6
. Thus, understanding regulatory logic and how mutations affect such logic is a central goal of genetics.
Reporter transgenes provide a powerful method to study the in vivo
function of CREs. Here a known or suspected CRE sequence is coupled to heterologous promoter and coding sequences for a reporter gene encoding an easily observable protein product. When a reporter transgene is inserted into a host organism, the CRE′s activity becomes visible in the form of the encoded reporter protein. P-element mediated transgenesis in the fruit fly species Drosophila (D.) melanogaster7
has been used for decades to introduce reporter transgenes into this model organism, though the genomic placement of transgenes is random. Hence, reporter gene activity is strongly influenced by the local chromatin and gene environment, limiting CRE comparisons to being qualitative. In recent years, the phiC31 based integration system was adapted for use in D. melanogaster
to insert transgenes into specific genome landing sites8-10
. This capability has made the quantitative measurement of gene and, relevant here, CRE activity11-13
feasible. The production of transgenic fruit flies can be outsourced, including phiC31-based integration, eliminating the need to purchase expensive equipment and/or have proficiency at specialized transgene injection protocols.
Here, we present a general protocol to quantitatively evaluate a CRE′s activity, and show how this approach can be used to measure the effects of an introduced mutation on a CRE′s activity and to compare the activities of orthologous CREs. Although the examples given are for a CRE active during fruit fly metamorphosis, the approach can be applied to other developmental stages, fruit fly species, or model organisms. Ultimately, a more widespread use of this approach to study CREs should advance an understanding of regulatory logic and how logic can vary and evolve.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Cis-regulatory element, CRE, cis-regulatory module, enhancer, site-specific integration, reporter transgenes, confocal microscopy, regulatory logic, transcription factors, binding sites, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila
Analysis of Schwann-astrocyte Interactions Using In Vitro Assays
Institutions: University of Cambridge.
Schwann cells are one of the commonly used cells in repair strategies following spinal cord injuries. Schwann cells are capable of supporting axonal regeneration and sprouting by secreting growth factors 1,2
and providing growth promoting adhesion molecules 3
and extracellular matrix molecules 4
. In addition they myelinate the demyelinated axons at the site of injury 5
However following transplantation, Schwann cells do not migrate from the site of implant and do not intermingle with the host astrocytes 6,7
. This results in formation of a sharp boundary between the Schwann cells and astrocytes, creating an obstacle for growing axons trying to exit the graft back into the host tissue proximally and distally. Astrocytes in contact with Schwann cells also undergo hypertrophy and up-regulate the inhibitory molecules 8-13
assays have been used to model Schwann cell-astrocyte interactions and have been important in understanding the mechanism underlying the cellular behaviour.
These in vitro
assays include boundary assay, where a co-culture is made using two different cells with each cell type occupying different territories with only a small gap separating the two cell fronts. As the cells divide and migrate, the two cellular fronts get closer to each other and finally collide. This allows the behaviour of the two cellular populations to be analyzed at the boundary. Another variation of the same technique is to mix the two cellular populations in culture and over time the two cell types segregate with Schwann cells clumped together as islands in between astrocytes together creating multiple Schwann-astrocyte boundaries.
The second assay used in studying the interaction of two cell types is the migration assay where cellular movement can be tracked on the surface of the other cell type monolayer 14,15
. This assay is commonly known as inverted coverslip assay. Schwann cells are cultured on small glass fragments and they are inverted face down onto the surface of astrocyte monolayers and migration is assessed from the edge of coverslip.
Both assays have been instrumental in studying the underlying mechanisms involved in the cellular exclusion and boundary formation. Some of the molecules identified using these techniques include N-Cadherins 15, Chondroitin Sulphate proteoglycans(CSPGs) 16,17
, FGF/Heparin 18
This article intends to describe boundary assay and migration assay in stepwise fashion and elucidate the possible technical problems that might occur.
Cellular Biology, Issue 47, Schwann cell, astrocyte, boundary, migration, repulsion
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
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
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
Selective Depletion of Microglia from Cerebellar Granule Cell Cultures Using L-leucine Methyl Ester
Institutions: University of Washington, University College London, University College London.
Microglia, the resident immunocompetent cells of the CNS, play multifaceted roles in modulating and controlling neuronal function, as well as mediating innate immunity. Primary rodent cell culture models have greatly advanced our understanding of neuronal-glial interactions, but only recently have methods to specifically eliminate microglia from mixed cultures been utilized. One such technique – described here – is the use of L-leucine methyl ester, a lysomotropic agent that is internalized by macrophages and microglia, wherein it causes lysosomal disruption and subsequent apoptosis13,14
. Experiments using L-leucine methyl ester have the power to identify the contribution of microglia to the surrounding cellular environment under diverse culture conditions. Using a protocol optimized in our laboratory, we describe how to eliminate microglia from P5 rodent cerebellar granule cell culture. This approach allows one to assess the relative impact of microglia on experimental data, as well as determine whether microglia are playing a neuroprotective or neurotoxic role in culture models of neurological conditions, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 101, Cell biology, microglia, cerebellar granule cells, L-leucine methyl ester, primary cell culture, neuron-glia biology, neuroinflammation