Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
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,
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
Mouse Hindbrain Ex Vivo Culture to Study Facial Branchiomotor Neuron Migration
Institutions: University College London, Centre for Cancer Biology, South Australia.
Embryonic neurons are born in the ventricular zone of the brain, but subsequently migrate to new destinations to reach appropriate targets. Deciphering the molecular signals that cooperatively guide neuronal migration in the embryonic brain is therefore important to understand how the complex neural networks form which later support postnatal life. Facial branchiomotor (FBM) neurons in the mouse embryo hindbrain migrate from rhombomere (r) 4 caudally to form the paired facial nuclei in the r6-derived region of the hindbrain. Here we provide a detailed protocol for wholemount ex vivo
culture of mouse embryo hindbrains suitable to investigate the signaling pathways that regulate FBM migration. In this method, hindbrains of E11.5 mouse embryos are dissected and cultured in an open book preparation on cell culture inserts for 24 hr. During this time, FBM neurons migrate caudally towards r6 and can be exposed to function-blocking antibodies and small molecules in the culture media or heparin beads loaded with recombinant proteins to examine roles for signaling pathways implicated in guiding neuronal migration.
Medicine, Issue 85, Neuroscience, Neuronal migration, hindbrain, mouse, facial branchiomotor neuron, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
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
The Olfactory System as a Model to Study Axonal Growth Patterns and Morphology In Vivo
Institutions: University of Göttingen.
The olfactory system has the unusual capacity to generate new neurons throughout the lifetime of an organism. Olfactory stem cells in the basal portion of the olfactory epithelium continuously give rise to new sensory neurons that extend their axons into the olfactory bulb, where they face the challenge to integrate into existing circuitry. Because of this particular feature, the olfactory system represents a unique opportunity to monitor axonal wiring and guidance, and to investigate synapse formation. Here we describe a procedure for in vivo
labeling of sensory neurons and subsequent visualization of axons in the olfactory system of larvae of the amphibian Xenopus laevis
. To stain sensory neurons in the olfactory organ we adopt the electroporation technique. In vivo
electroporation is an established technique for delivering fluorophore-coupled dextrans or other macromolecules into living cells. Stained sensory neurons and their axonal processes can then be monitored in the living animal either using confocal laser-scanning or multiphoton microscopy. By reducing the number of labeled cells to few or single cells per animal, single axons can be tracked into the olfactory bulb and their morphological changes can be monitored over weeks by conducting series of in vivo
time lapse imaging experiments. While the described protocol exemplifies the labeling and monitoring of olfactory sensory neurons, it can also be adopted to other cell types within the olfactory and other systems.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Xenopus laevis, Anura, electroporation, single cell electroporation, sensory neurons, olfactory system, axon growth, glomerulus, olfactory bulb, olfactory map formation
Analysis of Neural Crest Migration and Differentiation by Cross-species Transplantation
Institutions: Rice University .
Avian embryos provide a unique platform for studying many vertebrate developmental processes, due to the easy access of the embryos within the egg. Chimeric avian embryos, in which quail donor tissue is transplanted into a chick embryo in ovo
, combine the power of indelible genetic labeling of cell populations with the ease of manipulation presented by the avian embryo.
Quail-chick chimeras are a classical tool for tracing migratory neural crest cells (NCCs)1-3
. NCCs are a transient migratory population of cells in the embryo, which originate in the dorsal region of the developing neural tube4
. They undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition and subsequently migrate to other regions of the embryo, where they differentiate into various cell types including cartilage5-13
, neurons and glia21-32
. NCCs are multipotent, and their ultimate fate is influenced by 1) the region of the neural tube in which they originate along the rostro-caudal axis of the embryo11,33-37
, 2) signals from neighboring cells as they migrate38-44
, and 3) the microenvironment of their ultimate destination within the embryo45,46
. Tracing these cells from their point of origin at the neural tube, to their final position and fate within the embryo, provides important insight into the developmental processes that regulate patterning and organogenesis.
Transplantation of complementary regions of donor neural tube (homotopic grafting) or different regions of donor neural tube (heterotopic grafting) can reveal differences in pre-specification of NCCs along the rostro-caudal axis2,47
. This technique can be further adapted to transplant a unilateral compartment of the neural tube, such that one side is derived from donor tissue, and the contralateral side remains unperturbed in the host embryo, yielding an internal control within the same sample2,47
. It can also be adapted for transplantation of brain segments in later embryos, after HH10, when the anterior neural tube has closed47
Here we report techniques for generating quail-chick chimeras via neural tube transplantation, which allow for tracing of migratory NCCs derived from a discrete segment of the neural tube. Species-specific labeling of the donor-derived cells with the quail-specific QCPN antibody48-56
allows the researcher to distinguish donor and host cells at the experimental end point. This technique is straightforward, inexpensive, and has many applications, including fate-mapping, cell lineage tracing, and identifying pre-patterning events along the rostro-caudal axis45
. Because of the ease of access to the avian embryo, the quail-chick graft technique may be combined with other manipulations, including but not limited to lens ablation40
, injection of inhibitory molecules57,58
, or genetic manipulation via electroporation of expression plasmids59-61
, to identify the response of particular migratory streams of NCCs to perturbations in the embryo's developmental program. Furthermore, this grafting technique may also be used to generate other interspecific chimeric embryos such as quail-duck chimeras to study NCC contribution to craniofacial morphogenesis, or mouse-chick chimeras to combine the power of mouse genetics with the ease of manipulation of the avian embryo.62
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Neural crest, chick, quail, chimera, fate map, cell migration, cell differentiation
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
Chicken Embryo Spinal Cord Slice Culture Protocol
Institutions: University College London.
Slice cultures can facilitate the manipulation of embryo development both pharmacologically and through gene manipulations. In this reduced system, potential lethal side effects due to systemic drug applications can be overcome. However, culture conditions must ensure that normal development proceeds within the reduced environment of the slice. We have focused on the development of the spinal cord, particularly that of spinal motor neurons. We systematically varied culture conditions of chicken embryo slices from the point at which most spinal motor neurons had been born. We assayed the number and type of motor neurons that survived during the culture period and the position of those motor neurons compared to that in vivo
. We found that serum type and neurotrophic factors were required during the culture period and were able to keep motor neurons alive for at least 24 hr and allow those motor neurons to migrate to appropriate positions in the spinal cord. We present these culture conditions and the methodology of preparing the embryo slice cultures using eviscerated chicken embryos embedded in agarose and sliced using a vibratome.
Developmental Biology, Issue 73, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Surgery, Cells, Animal Structures, Embryonic Structures, Nervous System, spinal cord, embryo, development, Slice-Culture, motor neuron, neurons, immunostaining, chick, imaging, animal model
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
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
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
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
Culture of Isolated Floor Plate Tissue and Production of Conditioned Medium to Assess Functional Properties of Floor Plate-released Signals
Institutions: University of Lyon 1.
During development, progenitors and post-mitotic neurons receive signals from adjacent territories that regulate their fate. The floor-plate is a group of glial cells lining the ependymal canal at ventral position. The floor-plate expresses key morphogens contributing to the patterning of cell lineages in the spinal cord. At later developmental stages, the floor-plate regulates the navigation of axons in the spinal cord, acting as a barrier to prevent the crossing of ipsilateral axons and controlling midline crossing by commissural axons1
. These functions are achieved through the secretion of various guidance cues. Some of these cues act as attractants and repellents for the growing axons while others regulate guidance receptors and downstream signaling to modulate the sensitivity of the axons to the local guidance cues2,3
. Here we describe a method that allows investigating the properties of floor-plate derived signals in a variety of developmental contexts, based on the production of Floor-Plate conditioned medium (FPcm
. We then exemplify the use of this FPcm
in the context of axon guidance. First, the spinal cord is isolated from mouse embryo at E12.5 and the floor-plate is dissected out and cultivated in a plasma-thrombin matrix (Figure 1
). Second two days later, commissural tissue are dissected out from E12.5 embryos, triturated and exposed to the FPcm
. Third, the tissue are processed for Western blot analysis of commissural markers.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Growth Cones, Axons, Embryonic Development, Floor plate, conditioned medium, axon guidance, commissural tissue, biochemistry, receptor levels
Derivation of Enriched Oligodendrocyte Cultures and Oligodendrocyte/Neuron Myelinating Co-cultures from Post-natal Murine Tissues
Institutions: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa , Stony Brook University, University of Ottawa .
Identifying the molecular mechanisms underlying OL development is not only critical to furthering our knowledge of OL biology, but also has implications for understanding the pathogenesis of demyelinating diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Cellular development is commonly studied with primary cell culture models. Primary cell culture facilitates the evaluation of a given cell type by providing a controlled environment, free of the extraneous variables that are present in vivo
. While OL cultures derived from rats have provided a vast amount of insight into OL biology, similar efforts at establishing OL cultures from mice has been met with major obstacles. Developing methods to culture murine primary OLs is imperative in order to take advantage of the available transgenic mouse lines.
Multiple methods for extraction of OPCs from rodent tissue have been described, ranging from neurosphere derivation, differential adhesion purification and immunopurification 1-3
. While many methods offer success, most require extensive culture times and/or costly equipment/reagents. To circumvent this, purifying OPCs from murine tissue with an adaptation of the method originally described by McCarthy &
de Vellis 2
is preferred. This method involves physically separating OPCs from a mixed glial culture derived from neonatal rodent cortices. The result is a purified OPC population that can be differentiated into an OL-enriched culture. This approach is appealing due to its relatively short culture time and the unnecessary requirement for growth factors or immunopanning antibodies.
While exploring the mechanisms of OL development in a purified culture is informative, it does not provide the most physiologically relevant environment for assessing myelin sheath formation. Co-culturing OLs with neurons would lend insight into the molecular underpinnings regulating OL-mediated myelination of axons. For many OL/neuron co-culture studies, dorsal root ganglion neurons (DRGNs) have proven to be the neuron type of choice. They are ideal for co-culture with OLs due to their ease of extraction, minimal amount of contaminating cells, and formation of dense neurite beds. While studies using rat/mouse myelinating xenocultures have been published 4-6
, a method for the derivation of such OL/DRGN myelinating co-cultures from post-natal murine tissue has not been described. Here we present detailed methods on how to effectively produce such cultures, along with examples of expected results. These methods are useful for addressing questions relevant to OL development/myelinating function, and are useful tools in the field of neuroscience.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, Oligodendrocyte, myelination, in vitro, dorsal root ganglion neuron, co-culture, primary cells, mouse, neuroscience
Intravital Imaging of Axonal Interactions with Microglia and Macrophages in a Mouse Dorsal Column Crush Injury
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Traumatic spinal cord injury causes an inflammatory reaction involving blood-derived macrophages and central nervous system (CNS)-resident microglia. Intra-vital two-photon microscopy enables the study of macrophages and microglia in the spinal cord lesion in the living animal. This can be performed in adult animals with a traumatic injury to the dorsal column. Here, we describe methods for distinguishing macrophages from microglia in the CNS using an irradiation bone marrow chimera to obtain animals in which only macrophages or microglia are labeled with a genetically encoded green fluorescent protein. We also describe a injury model that crushes the dorsal column of the spinal cord, thereby producing a simple, easily accessible, rectangular lesion that is easily visualized in an animal through a laminectomy. Furthermore, we will outline procedures to sequentially image the animals at the anatomical site of injury for the study of cellular interactions during the first few days to weeks after injury.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Intravital, spinal cord crush injury, chimera, microglia, macrophages, dorsal column crush, axonal dieback
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
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
Deciphering Axonal Pathways of Genetically Defined Groups of Neurons in the Chick Neural Tube Utilizing in ovo Electroporation
Institutions: Institute for Medical Research Israel Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School.
Employment of enhancer elements to drive expression of reporter genes in neurons is a widely used paradigm for tracking axonal projection. For tracking axonal projection of spinal interneurons in vertebrates, germ line-targeted reporter genes yield bilaterally symmetric labeling. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish between the ipsi- and contra-laterally projecting axons. Unilateral electroporation into the chick neural tube provides a useful means to restrict expression of a reporter gene to one side of the central nervous system, and to follow axonal projection on both sides 1 ,2-5
. This video demonstrates first how to handle the eggs prior to injection. At HH stage 18-20, DNA is injected into the sacral level of the neural tube, then tungsten electrodes are placed parallel to the embryo and short electrical pulses are administered with a pulse generator. The egg is sealed with tape and placed back into an incubator for further development. Three days later (E6) the spinal cord is removed as an open book preparation from embryo, fixed, and processed for whole mount antibody staining. The stained spinal cord is mounted on slide and visualized using confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, in ovo electroporation, neural tube, chick, interneurons, axonal pathway
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)
Preparation and Maintenance of Dorsal Root Ganglia Neurons in Compartmented Cultures
Institutions: Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School.
Neurons extend axonal processes that are far removed from the cell body to innervate target tissues, where target-derived growth factors are required for neuronal survival and function. Neurotrophins are specifically required to maintain the survival and differentiation of innervating sensory neurons but the question of how these target-derived neurotrophins communicate to the cell body of innervating neurons has been an area of active research for over 30 years. The most commonly accepted model of how neurotrophin signals reach the cell body proposes that signaling endosomes carry this signal retrogradely along the axon. In order to study retrograde transport, a culture system was originally devised by Robert Campenot, in which cell bodies are isolated from their axons. The technique of preparing these compartmented chambers for culturing sensory neurons recapitulates the selective stimulation of neuron terminals that occurs in vivo following release of target-derived neurotrophins. Retrograde signaling events that require long-range microtubule dependent retrograde transport have important implications for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 20, campenot cultures, cell culture, dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, neuronal culture
Chromatin Immunoprecipitation from Dorsal Root Ganglia Tissue following Axonal Injury
Institutions: University of Tuebingen , University of Tuebingen .
Axons in the central nervous system (CNS) do not regenerate while those in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) do regenerate
to a limited extent after injury (Teng et al.
, 2006). It is recognized that transcriptional programs essential for neurite and axonal outgrowth are
reactivated upon injury in the PNS (Makwana et al.
, 2005). However the tools available to analyze neuronal gene regulation in vivo
are limited and
The dorsal root ganglia (DRG) offer an excellent injury model system because both the CNS and PNS are innervated by a
bifurcated axon originating from the same soma. The ganglia represent a discrete collection of cell bodies where all transcriptional events occur,
and thus provide a clearly defined region of transcriptional activity that can be easily and reproducibly removed from the animal. Injury of nerve
fibers in the PNS (e.g. sciatic nerve), where axonal regeneration does occur, should reveal a set of transcriptional programs that are distinct from
those responding to a similar injury in the CNS, where regeneration does not take place (e.g. spinal cord). Sites for transcription factor binding,
histone and DNA modification resulting from injury to either PNS or CNS can be characterized using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP).
Here, we describe a ChIP protocol using fixed mouse DRG tissue following axonal injury. This powerful combination provides a means for characterizing the pro-regeneration chromatin environment necessary for promoting axonal regeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, dorsal root ganglia, transcription factor, epigenetic, axonal regeneration
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