Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm.
Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus
egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3
. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus
egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus
egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35
S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus
egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
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
Two-Photon in vivo Imaging of Dendritic Spines in the Mouse Cortex Using a Thinned-skull Preparation
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the mammalian cortex, neurons form extremely complicated networks and exchange information at synapses. Changes in synaptic strength, as well as addition/removal of synapses, occur in an experience-dependent manner, providing the structural foundation of neuronal plasticity. As postsynaptic components of the most excitatory synapses in the cortex, dendritic spines are considered to be a good proxy of synapses. Taking advantages of mouse genetics and fluorescent labeling techniques, individual neurons and their synaptic structures can be labeled in the intact brain. Here we introduce a transcranial imaging protocol using two-photon laser scanning microscopy to follow fluorescently labeled postsynaptic dendritic spines over time in vivo
. This protocol utilizes a thinned-skull preparation, which keeps the skull intact and avoids inflammatory effects caused by exposure of the meninges and the cortex. Therefore, images can be acquired immediately after surgery is performed. The experimental procedure can be performed repetitively over various time intervals ranging from hours to years. The application of this preparation can also be expanded to investigate different cortical regions and layers, as well as other cell types, under physiological and pathological conditions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, dendritic spine, mouse cortex, in vivo, two-photon microscopy, thinned-skull, imaging
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
Multi-photon Intracellular Sodium Imaging Combined with UV-mediated Focal Uncaging of Glutamate in CA1 Pyramidal Neurons
Institutions: Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.
Multi-photon fluorescence microscopy has enabled the analysis of morphological and physiological parameters of brain cells in the intact tissue with high spatial and temporal resolution. Combined with electrophysiology, it is widely used to study activity-related calcium signals in small subcellular compartments such as dendrites and dendritic spines. In addition to calcium transients, synaptic activity also induces postsynaptic sodium signals, the properties of which are only marginally understood. Here, we describe a method for combined whole-cell patch-clamp and multi-photon sodium imaging in cellular micro domains of central neurons. Furthermore, we introduce a modified procedure for ultra-violet (UV)-light-induced uncaging of glutamate, which allows reliable and focal activation of glutamate receptors in the tissue. To this end, whole-cell recordings were performed on Cornu Ammonis
subdivision 1 (CA1) pyramidal neurons in acute tissue slices of the mouse hippocampus. Neurons were filled with the sodium-sensitive fluorescent dye SBFI through the patch-pipette, and multi-photon excitation of SBFI enabled the visualization of dendrites and adjacent spines. To establish UV-induced focal uncaging, several parameters including light intensity, volume affected by the UV uncaging beam, positioning of the beam as well as concentration of the caged compound were tested and optimized. Our results show that local perfusion with caged glutamate (MNI-Glutamate) and its focal UV-uncaging result in inward currents and sodium transients in dendrites and spines. Time course and amplitude of both inward currents and sodium signals correlate with the duration of the uncaging pulse. Furthermore, our results show that intracellular sodium signals are blocked in the presence of blockers for ionotropic glutamate receptors, demonstrating that they are mediated by sodium influx though this pathway. In summary, our method provides a reliable tool for the investigation of intracellular sodium signals induced by focal receptor activation in intact brain tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Neurosciences, two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp, UV-flash photolysis, mouse, hippocampus, caged compounds, glutamate, brain slice, dendrite, sodium signals
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
Electrophysiological and Morphological Characterization of Neuronal Microcircuits in Acute Brain Slices Using Paired Patch-Clamp Recordings
Institutions: Research Centre Jülich, RWTH Aachen University.
The combination of patch clamp recordings from two (or more) synaptically coupled neurons (paired recordings) in acute brain slice preparations with simultaneous intracellular biocytin filling allows a correlated analysis of their structural and functional properties. With this method it is possible to identify and characterize both pre- and postsynaptic neurons by their morphology and electrophysiological response pattern. Paired recordings allow studying the connectivity patterns between these neurons as well as the properties of both chemical and electrical synaptic transmission. Here, we give a step-by-step description of the procedures required to obtain reliable paired recordings together with an optimal recovery of the neuron morphology. We will describe how pairs of neurons connected via chemical synapses or gap junctions are identified in brain slice preparations. We will outline how neurons are reconstructed to obtain their 3D morphology of the dendritic and axonal domain and how synaptic contacts are identified and localized. We will also discuss the caveats and limitations of the paired recording technique, in particular those associated with dendritic and axonal truncations during the preparation of brain slices because these strongly affect connectivity estimates. However, because of the versatility of the paired recording approach it will remain a valuable tool in characterizing different aspects of synaptic transmission at identified neuronal microcircuits in the brain.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, Patch-clamp, paired recordings, neurons, synaptic connections, gap junctions, biocytin labeling, structure-function correlations
Assessment of Dendritic Arborization in the Dentate Gyrus of the Hippocampal Region in Mice
Institutions: VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Stanford University School of Medicine, Arkansas State University.
Dendritic arborization has been shown to be a reliable marker for examination of structural and functional integrity of neurons. Indeed, the complexity and extent of dendritic arborization correlates well with the synaptic plasticity in these cells. A reliable method for assessment of dendritic arborization is needed to characterize the deleterious effects of neurological disorders on these structures and to determine the effects of therapeutic interventions. However, quantification of these structures has proven to be a formidable task given their complex and dynamic nature. Fortunately, sophisticated imaging techniques can be paired with conventional staining methods to assess the state of dendritic arborization, providing a more reliable and expeditious means of assessment. Below is an example of how these imaging techniques were paired with staining methods to characterize the dendritic arborization in wild type mice. These complementary imaging methods can be used to qualitatively and quantitatively assess dendritic arborization that span a rather wide area within the hippocampal region.
Neuroscience, Issue 97, Dendritic arborization, Doublecortin, Golgi-Cox, High resolution imaging, Image analysis, Extended Depth of Field Imaging
Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) of Fluorescence Tagged Proteins in Dendritic Spines of Cultured Hippocampal Neurons
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda.
FRAP has been used to quantify the mobility of GFP-tagged proteins. Using a strong excitation laser, the fluorescence of a GFP-tagged protein is bleached in the region of interest. The fluorescence of the region recovers when the unbleached GFP-tagged protein from outside of the region diffuses into the region of interest. The mobility of the protein is then analyzed by measuring the fluorescence recovery rate. This technique could be used to characterize protein mobility and turnover rate.
In this study, we express the (enhanced green
fluorescent protein) EGFP vector in cultured hippocampal neurons. Using the Zeiss 710 confocal microscope, we photobleach the fluorescence signal of the GFP protein in a single spine, and then take time lapse images to record the fluorescence recovery after photobleaching. Finally, we estimate the percentage of mobile and immobile fractions of the GFP in spines, by analyzing the imaging data using ImageJ and Graphpad softwares.
This FRAP protocol shows how to perform a basic FRAP experiment as well as how to analyze the data.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Spine, FRAP, hippocampal neurons, live cell imaging, protein mobility
Analyzing Craniofacial Morphogenesis in Zebrafish Using 4D Confocal Microscopy
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Time-lapse imaging is a technique that allows for the direct observation of the process of morphogenesis, or the generation of shape. Due to their optical clarity and amenability to genetic manipulation, the zebrafish embryo has become a popular model organism with which to perform time-lapse analysis of morphogenesis in living embryos. Confocal imaging of a live zebrafish embryo requires that a tissue of interest is persistently labeled with a fluorescent marker, such as a transgene or injected dye. The process demands that the embryo is anesthetized and held in place in such a way that healthy development proceeds normally. Parameters for imaging must be set to account for three-dimensional growth and to balance the demands of resolving individual cells while getting quick snapshots of development. Our results demonstrate the ability to perform long-term in vivo
imaging of fluorescence-labeled zebrafish embryos and to detect varied tissue behaviors in the cranial neural crest that cause craniofacial abnormalities. Developmental delays caused by anesthesia and mounting are minimal, and embryos are unharmed by the process. Time-lapse imaged embryos can be returned to liquid medium and subsequently imaged or fixed at later points in development. With an increasing abundance of transgenic zebrafish lines and well-characterized fate mapping and transplantation techniques, imaging any desired tissue is possible. As such, time-lapse in vivo
imaging combines powerfully with zebrafish genetic methods, including analyses of mutant and microinjected embryos.
Developmental Biology, Issue 83, zebrafish, neural crest, time-lapse, transgenic, morphogenesis, craniofacial, head, development, confocal, Microscopy, In vivo, movie
Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans
embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans
is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo
due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
Pull-down of Calmodulin-binding Proteins
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin .
) is an ion vital in regulating cellular function through a variety of mechanisms. Much of Ca2+
signaling is mediated through the calcium-binding protein known as calmodulin (CaM)1,2
. CaM is involved at multiple levels in almost all cellular processes, including apoptosis, metabolism, smooth muscle contraction, synaptic plasticity, nerve growth, inflammation and the immune response. A number of proteins help regulate these pathways through their interaction with CaM. Many of these interactions depend on the conformation of CaM, which is distinctly different when bound to Ca2+
-CaM) as opposed to its Ca2+
-free state (ApoCaM)3
While most target proteins bind Ca2+
-CaM, certain proteins only bind to ApoCaM. Some bind CaM through their IQ-domain, including neuromodulin4
, neurogranin (Ng)5
, and certain myosins6
. These proteins have been shown to play important roles in presynaptic function7
, postsynaptic function8
, and muscle contraction9
, respectively. Their ability to bind and release CaM in the absence or presence of Ca2+
is pivotal in their function. In contrast, many proteins only bind Ca2+
-CaM and require this binding for their activation. Examples include myosin light chain kinase10
/CaM-dependent kinases (CaMKs)11
and phosphatases (e.g. calcineurin)12
, and spectrin kinase13
, which have a variety of direct and downstream effects14
The effects of these proteins on cellular function are often dependent on their ability to bind to CaM in a Ca2+
-dependent manner. For example, we tested the relevance of Ng-CaM binding in synaptic function and how different mutations affect this binding. We generated a GFP-tagged Ng construct with specific mutations in the IQ-domain that would change the ability of Ng to bind CaM in a Ca2+
-dependent manner. The study of these different mutations gave us great insight into important processes involved in synaptic function8,15
. However, in such studies, it is essential to demonstrate that the mutated proteins have the expected altered binding to CaM.
Here, we present a method for testing the ability of proteins to bind to CaM in the presence or absence of Ca2+
, using CaMKII and Ng as examples. This method is a form of affinity chromatography referred to as a CaM pull-down assay. It uses CaM-Sepharose beads to test proteins that bind to CaM and the influence of Ca2+
on this binding. It is considerably more time efficient and requires less protein relative to column chromatography and other assays. Altogether, this provides a valuable tool to explore Ca2+
/CaM signaling and proteins that interact with CaM.
Molecular BIology, Issue 59, Calmodulin, calcium, IQ-motif, affinity chromatography, pull-down, Ca2+/Calmodulin-dependent Kinase II, neurogranin
Lateral Diffusion and Exocytosis of Membrane Proteins in Cultured Neurons Assessed using Fluorescence Recovery and Fluorescence-loss Photobleaching
Institutions: University of Bristol.
Membrane proteins such as receptors and ion channels undergo active trafficking in neurons, which are highly polarised and morphologically complex. This directed trafficking is of fundamental importance to deliver, maintain or remove synaptic proteins.
Super-ecliptic pHluorin (SEP) is a pH-sensitive derivative of eGFP that has been extensively used for live cell imaging of plasma membrane proteins1-2
. At low pH, protonation of SEP decreases photon absorption and eliminates fluorescence emission. As most intracellular trafficking events occur in compartments with low pH, where SEP fluorescence is eclipsed, the fluorescence signal from SEP-tagged proteins is predominantly from the plasma membrane where the SEP is exposed to a neutral pH extracellular environment. When illuminated at high intensity SEP, like every fluorescent dye, is irreversibly photodamaged (photobleached)3-5
. Importantly, because low pH quenches photon absorption, only surface expressed SEP can be photobleached whereas intracellular SEP is unaffected by the high intensity illumination6-10
FRAP (fluorescence recovery after photobleaching) of SEP-tagged proteins is a convenient and powerful technique for assessing protein dynamics at the plasma membrane. When fluorescently tagged proteins are photobleached in a region of interest (ROI) the recovery in fluorescence occurs due to the movement of unbleached SEP-tagged proteins into the bleached region. This can occur via lateral diffusion and/or from exocytosis of non-photobleached receptors supplied either by de novo
synthesis or recycling (see Fig. 1). The fraction of immobile and mobile protein can be determined and the mobility and kinetics of the diffusible fraction can be interrogated under basal and stimulated conditions such as agonist application or neuronal activation stimuli such as NMDA or KCl application8,10
We describe photobleaching techniques designed to selectively visualize the recovery of fluorescence attributable to exocytosis. Briefly, an ROI is photobleached once as with standard FRAP protocols, followed, after a brief recovery, by repetitive bleaching of the flanking regions. This 'FRAP-FLIP' protocol, developed in our lab, has been used to characterize AMPA receptor trafficking at dendritic spines10
, and is applicable to a wide range of trafficking studies to evaluate the intracellular trafficking and exocytosis.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching, FRAP, Confocal imaging, fluorophore, GFP, Super-ecliptic pHluorin, SEP, fluorescence loss in photobleach, FLIP, neuron, protein traffic, synapse
Visualization and Genetic Manipulation of Dendrites and Spines in the Mouse Cerebral Cortex and Hippocampus using In utero Electroporation
Institutions: MRC National Institute for Medical Research, National Institute for Medical Research, Université de Bordeaux.
In utero electroporation (IUE) has become a powerful technique to study the development of different regions of the embryonic nervous system 1-5
. To date this tool has been widely used to study the regulation of cellular proliferation, differentiation and neuronal migration especially in the developing cerebral cortex 6-8
. Here we detail our protocol to electroporate in utero the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus and provide evidence that this approach can be used to study dendrites and spines in these two cerebral regions.
Visualization and manipulation of neurons in primary cultures have contributed to a better understanding of the processes involved in dendrite, spine and synapse development. However neurons growing in vitro are not exposed to all the physiological cues that can affect dendrite and/or spine formation and maintenance during normal development. Our knowledge of dendrite and spine structures in vivo
in wild-type or mutant mice comes mostly from observations using the Golgi-Cox method 9
. However, Golgi staining is considered to be unpredictable. Indeed, groups of nerve cells and fiber tracts are labeled randomly, with particular areas often appearing completely stained while adjacent areas are devoid of staining. Recent studies have shown that IUE of fluorescent constructs represents an attractive alternative method to study dendrites, spines as well as synapses in mutant / wild-type mice 10-11
). Moreover in comparison to the generation of mouse knockouts, IUE represents a rapid approach to perform gain and loss of function studies in specific population of cells during a specific time window. In addition, IUE has been successfully used with inducible gene expression or inducible RNAi approaches to refine the temporal control over the expression of a gene or shRNA 12
. These advantages of IUE have thus opened new dimensions to study the effect of gene expression/suppression on dendrites and spines not only in specific cerebral structures (Figure 1B
) but also at a specific time point of development (Figure 1C
Finally, IUE provides a useful tool to identify functional interactions between genes involved in dendrite, spine and/or synapse development. Indeed, in contrast to other gene transfer methods such as virus, it is straightforward to combine multiple RNAi or transgenes in the same population of cells.
In summary, IUE is a powerful method that has already contributed to the characterization of molecular mechanisms underlying brain function and disease and it should also be useful in the study of dendrites and spines.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Neuronal development, In utero electroporation, dendrite, spines, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, gain and loss of function
Voltage-sensitive Dye Recording from Axons, Dendrites and Dendritic Spines of Individual Neurons in Brain Slices
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Understanding the biophysical properties and functional organization of single neurons and how they process information is fundamental for understanding how the brain works. The primary function of any nerve cell is to process electrical signals, usually from multiple sources. Electrical properties of neuronal processes are extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and, in the general case, impossible to predict in the absence of detailed measurements. To obtain such a measurement one would, ideally, like to be able to monitor, at multiple sites, subthreshold events as they travel from the sites of origin on neuronal processes and summate at particular locations to influence action potential initiation. This goal has not been achieved in any neuron due to technical limitations of measurements that employ electrodes. To overcome this drawback, it is highly desirable to complement the patch-electrode approach with imaging techniques that permit extensive parallel recordings from all parts of a neuron. Here, we describe such a technique - optical recording of membrane potential transients with organic voltage-sensitive dyes (Vm
-imaging) - characterized by sub-millisecond and sub-micrometer resolution. Our method is based on pioneering work on voltage-sensitive molecular probes 2
. Many aspects of the initial technology have been continuously improved over several decades 3, 5, 11
. Additionally, previous work documented two essential characteristics of Vm-
imaging. Firstly, fluorescence signals are linearly proportional to membrane potential over the entire physiological range (-100 mV to +100 mV; 10, 14, 16
). Secondly, loading neurons with the voltage-sensitive dye used here (JPW 3028) does not have detectable pharmacological effects. The recorded broadening of the spike during dye loading is completely reversible 4, 7
. Additionally, experimental evidence shows that it is possible to obtain a significant number (up to hundreds) of recordings prior to any detectable phototoxic effects 4, 6, 12, 13
. At present, we take advantage of the superb brightness and stability of a laser light source at near-optimal wavelength to maximize the sensitivity of the Vm
-imaging technique. The current sensitivity permits multiple site optical recordings of Vm
transients from all parts of a neuron, including axons and axon collaterals, terminal dendritic branches, and individual dendritic spines. The acquired information on signal interactions can be analyzed quantitatively as well as directly visualized in the form of a movie.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, voltage-sensitive dyes, brain, imaging, dendritic spines, axons, dendrites, neurons
Post-embedding Immunogold Labeling of Synaptic Proteins in Hippocampal Slice Cultures
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin , Medical College of Wisconsin .
Immunoelectron microscopy is a powerful tool to study biological molecules at the subcellular level. Antibodies coupled to electron-dense markers such as colloidal gold can reveal the localization and distribution of specific antigens in various tissues1
. The two most widely used techniques are pre-embedding and post-embedding techniques. In pre-embedding immunogold-electron microscopy (EM) techniques, the tissue must be permeabilized to allow antibody penetration before it is embedded. These techniques are ideal for preserving structures but poor penetration of the antibody (often only the first few micrometers) is a considerable drawback2
. The post-embedding labeling methods can avoid this problem because labeling takes place on sections of fixed tissues where antigens are more easily accessible. Over the years, a number of modifications have improved the post-embedding methods to enhance immunoreactivity and to preserve ultrastructure3-5
Tissue fixation is a crucial part of EM studies. Fixatives chemically crosslink the macromolecules to lock the tissue structures in place. The choice of fixative affects not only structural preservation but also antigenicity and contrast. Osmium tetroxide (OsO4
), formaldehyde, and glutaraldehyde have been the standard fixatives for decades, including for central nervous system (CNS) tissues that are especially prone to structural damage during chemical and physical processing. Unfortunately, OsO4
is highly reactive and has been shown to mask antigens6
, resulting in poor and insufficient labeling. Alternative approaches to avoid chemical fixation include freezing the tissues. But these techniques are difficult to perform and require expensive instrumentation. To address some of these problems and to improve CNS tissue labeling, Phend et al
. replaced OsO4
with uranyl acetate (UA) and tannic acid (TA), and successfully introduced additional modifications to improve the sensitivity of antigen detection and structural preservation in brain and spinal cord tissues7
. We have adopted this osmium-free post-embedding method to rat brain tissue and optimized the immunogold labeling technique to detect and study synaptic proteins.
We present here a method to determine the ultrastructural localization of synaptic proteins in rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. We use organotypic hippocampal cultured slices. These slices maintain the trisynaptic circuitry of the hippocampus, and thus are especially useful for studying synaptic plasticity, a mechanism widely thought to underlie learning and memory. Organotypic hippocampal slices from postnatal day 5 and 6 mouse/rat pups can be prepared as described previously8
, and are especially useful to acutely knockdown or overexpress exogenous proteins. We have previously used this protocol to characterize neurogranin (Ng), a neuron-specific protein with a critical role in regulating synaptic function8,9
. We have also used it to characterize the ultrastructural localization of calmodulin (CaM) and Ca2+
/CaM-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII)10
. As illustrated in the results, this protocol allows good ultrastructural preservation of dendritic spines and efficient labeling of Ng to help characterize its distribution in the spine8
. Furthermore, the procedure described here can have wide applicability in studying many other proteins involved in neuronal functions.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Immunology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Proteins, Immunohistochemistry, Immunological Synapses, Synapses, Hippocampus, Microscopy, Electron, Neuronal Plasticity, plasticity, Nervous System, Organotypic cultures, hippocampus, electron microscopy, post-embedding, immunogold labeling, fixation, cell culture, imaging
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
Visualizing the Effects of a Positive Early Experience, Tactile Stimulation, on Dendritic Morphology and Synaptic Connectivity with Golgi-Cox Staining
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
To generate longer-term changes in behavior, experiences must be producing stable changes in neuronal morphology and synaptic connectivity. Tactile stimulation is a positive early experience that mimics maternal licking and grooming in the rat. Exposing rat pups to this positive experience can be completed easily and cost-effectively by using highly accessible materials such as a household duster. Using a cross-litter design, pups are either stroked or left undisturbed, for 15 min, three times per day throughout the perinatal period. To measure the neuroplastic changes related to this positive early experience, Golgi-Cox staining of brain tissue is utilized. Owing to the fact that Golgi-Cox impregnation stains a discrete number of neurons rather than all of the cells, staining of the rodent brain with Golgi-Cox solution permits the visualization of entire neuronal elements, including the cell body, dendrites, axons, and dendritic spines. The staining procedure is carried out over several days and requires that the researcher pay close attention to detail. However, once staining is completed, the entire brain has been impregnated and can be preserved indefinitely for ongoing analysis. Therefore, Golgi-Cox staining is a valuable resource for studying experience-dependent plasticity.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Brain, Prefrontal Cortex, Neurons, Massage, Staining and Labeling, mPFC, spine density, methodology, enrichment
Genetic Manipulation of Cerebellar Granule Neurons In Vitro and In Vivo to Study Neuronal Morphology and Migration
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine, Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain (CNMPB).
Developmental events in the brain including neuronal morphogenesis and migration are highly orchestrated processes. In vitro
and in vivo
analyses allow for an in-depth characterization to identify pathways involved in these events. Cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) that are derived from the developing cerebellum are an ideal model system that allows for morphological analyses. Here, we describe a method of how to genetically manipulate CGNs and how to study axono- and dendritogenesis of individual neurons. With this method the effects of RNA interference, overexpression or small molecules can be compared to control neurons. In addition, the rodent cerebellar cortex is an easily accessible in vivo
system owing to its predominant postnatal development. We also present an in vivo
electroporation technique to genetically manipulate the developing cerebella and describe subsequent cerebellar analyses to assess neuronal morphology and migration.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, axons, dendrites, neuronal migration, cerebellum, cultured neurons, transfection, in vivo electroporation
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