One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, firstname.lastname@example.org) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: University of Auckland, Stanford University.
Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, hippocampus, paired recording, whole cell recording, organotypic slice, synapse, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Automated Quantification of Synaptic Fluorescence in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Toledo .
Synapse strength refers to the amplitude of postsynaptic responses to presynaptic neurotransmitter release events, and has a major impact on overall neural circuit function. Synapse strength critically depends on the abundance of neurotransmitter receptors clustered at synaptic sites on the postsynaptic membrane. Receptor levels are established developmentally, and can be altered by receptor trafficking between surface-localized, subsynaptic, and intracellular pools, representing important mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation. Rigorous methods to quantify synaptically-localized neurotransmitter receptor abundance are essential to study synaptic development and plasticity. Fluorescence microscopy is an optimal approach because it preserves spatial information, distinguishing synaptic from non-synaptic pools, and discriminating among receptor populations localized to different types of synapses. The genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans
is particularly well suited for these studies due to the small size and relative simplicity of its nervous system, its transparency, and the availability of powerful genetic techniques, allowing examination of native synapses in intact animals.
Here we present a method for quantifying fluorescently-labeled synaptic neurotransmitter receptors in C. elegans
. Its key feature is the automated identification and analysis of individual synapses in three dimensions in multi-plane confocal microscope output files, tabulating position, volume, fluorescence intensity, and total fluorescence for each synapse. This approach has two principal advantages over manual analysis of z-plane projections of confocal data. First, because every plane of the confocal data set is included, no data are lost through z-plane projection, typically based on pixel intensity averages or maxima. Second, identification of synapses is automated, but can be inspected by the experimenter as the data analysis proceeds, allowing fast and accurate extraction of data from large numbers of synapses. Hundreds to thousands of synapses per sample can easily be obtained, producing large data sets to maximize statistical power. Considerations for preparing C. elegans
for analysis, and performing confocal imaging to minimize variability between animals within treatment groups are also discussed. Although developed to analyze C. elegans
postsynaptic receptors, this method is generally useful for any type of synaptically-localized protein, or indeed, any fluorescence signal that is localized to discrete clusters, puncta, or organelles.
The procedure is performed in three steps: 1) preparation of samples, 2) confocal imaging, and 3) image analysis. Steps 1 and 2 are specific to C. elegans
, while step 3 is generally applicable to any punctate fluorescence signal in confocal micrographs.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Developmental Biology, Neurotransmitter receptors, quantification, confocal microscopy, immunostaining, fluorescence, Volocity, UNC-49 GABA receptors, C. elegans
Differential Labeling of Cell-surface and Internalized Proteins after Antibody Feeding of Live Cultured Neurons
Institutions: The University of Melbourne, Duke University Medical Center, The University of Melbourne.
In order to demonstrate the cell-surface localization of a putative transmembrane receptor in cultured neurons, we labeled the protein on the surface of live neurons with a specific primary antibody raised against an extracellular portion of the protein. Given that receptors are trafficked to and from the surface, if cells are permeabilized after fixation then both cell-surface and internal protein will be detected by the same labeled secondary antibody. Here, we adapted a method used to study protein trafficking (“antibody feeding”) to differentially label protein that had been internalized by endocytosis during the antibody incubation step and protein that either remained on the cell surface or was trafficked to the surface during this period. The ability to distinguish these two pools of protein was made possible through the incorporation of an overnight blocking step with highly-concentrated unlabeled secondary antibody after an initial incubation of unpermeabilized neurons with a fluorescently-labeled secondary antibody. After the blocking step, permeabilization of the neurons allowed detection of the internalized pool with a fluorescent secondary antibody labeled with a different fluorophore. Using this technique we were able to obtain important information about the subcellular location of this putative receptor, revealing that it was, indeed, trafficked to the cell-surface in neurons. This technique is broadly applicable to a range of cell types and cell-surface proteins, providing a suitable antibody to an extracellular epitope is available.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, two-color fluorescence immunocytochemistry, trafficking, endocytosis, recycling endosome, neurons
Use of LysoTracker to Detect Programmed Cell Death in Embryos and Differentiating Embryonic Stem Cells
Institutions: University of Southern California.
Programmed cell death (PCD) occurs in adults to maintain normal tissue homeostasis and during embryological development to shape tissues and organs1,2,6,7
. During development, toxic chemicals or genetic alterations can cause an increase in PCD or change PCD patterns resulting in developmental abnormalities and birth defects3-5
. To understand the etiology of these defects, the study of embryos can be complemented with in vitro
assays that use differentiating embryonic stem (ES) cells.
Apoptosis is a well-studied form of PCD that involves both intrinsic and extrinsic signaling to activate the caspase enzyme cascade. Characteristic cell changes include membrane blebbing, nuclear shrinking, and DNA fragmentation. Other forms of PCD do not involve caspase activation and may be the end-result of prolonged autophagy. Regardless of the PCD pathway, dying cells need to be removed. In adults, the immune cells perform this function, while in embryos, where the immune system has not yet developed, removal occurs by an alternative mechanism. This mechanism involves neighboring cells (called "non-professional phagocytes") taking on a phagocytic role-they recognize the 'eat me' signal on the surface of the dying cell and engulf it8-10
. After engulfment, the debris is brought to the lysosome for degradation. Thus regardless of PCD mechanism, an increase in lysosomal activity can be correlated with increased cell death.
To study PCD, a simple assay to visualize lysosomes in thick tissues and multilayer differentiating cultures can be useful. LysoTracker dye is a highly soluble small molecule that is retained in acidic subcellular compartments such as the lysosome11-13
. The dye is taken up by diffusion and through the circulation. Since penetration is not a hindrance, visualization of PCD in thick tissues and multi-layer cultures is possible12,13
. In contrast, TUNEL (Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling) analysis14
, is limited to small samples, histological sections, and monolayer cultures because the procedure requires the entry/permeability of a terminal transferase.
In contrast to Aniline blue, which diffuses and is dissolved by solvents, LysoTracker Red DND-99 is fixable, bright, and stable. Staining can be visualized with standard fluorescent or confocal microscopy in whole-mount or section using aqueous or solvent-based mounting media12,13
. Here we describe protocols using this dye to look at PCD in normal and sonic hedgehog
null mouse embryos. In addition, we demonstrate analysis of PCD in differentiating ES cell cultures and present a simple quantification method. In summary, LysoTracker staining can be a great complement to other methods of detecting PCD.
Developmental Biology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Stem Cell Biology, Cellular Biology, mouse embryo, embryonic stem cells, lysosome, programmed cell death, imaging, sonic hedgehog
Isolation of CA1 Nuclear Enriched Fractions from Hippocampal Slices to Study Activity-dependent Nuclear Import of Synapto-nuclear Messenger Proteins
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Utrecht University.
Studying activity dependent protein expression, subcellular translocation, or phosphorylation is essential to understand the underlying cellular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity. Long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) induced in acute hippocampal slices are widely accepted as cellular models of learning and memory. There are numerous studies that use live cell imaging or immunohistochemistry approaches to visualize activity dependent protein dynamics. However these methods rely on the suitability of antibodies for immunocytochemistry or overexpression of fluorescence-tagged proteins in single neurons. Immunoblotting of proteins is an alternative method providing independent confirmation of the findings. The first limiting factor in preparation of subcellular fractions from individual tetanized hippocampal slices is the low amount of material. Second, the handling procedure is crucial because even very short and minor manipulations of living slices might induce activation of certain signaling cascades. Here we describe an optimized workflow in order to obtain sufficient quantity of nuclear enriched fraction of sufficient purity from the CA1 region of acute hippocampal slices from rat brain. As a representative example we show that the ERK1/2 phosphorylated form of the synapto-nuclear protein messenger Jacob actively translocates to the nucleus upon induction of LTP and can be detected in a nuclear enriched fraction from CA1 neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, Hippocampal slices, long-term potentiation LTP, nucleus, NMDA receptors, NLS, immunoblotting, Jacob, nuclear enriched protein preparations
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
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Dopamine Release at Individual Presynaptic Terminals Visualized with FFNs
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University, eMolecules, Inc., University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, New York Psychiatric Institute.
The nervous system transmits signals between neurons via neurotransmitter release during synaptic vesicle fusion. To observe neurotransmitter uptake and release from individual presynaptic terminals directly, we designed fluorescent false neurotransmitters as substrates for the synaptic vesicle monoamine transporter. Using these probes to image dopamine release in the striatum, we made several observations pertinent to synaptic plasticity. We found that the fraction of synaptic vesicles releasing neurotransmitter per stimulus was dependent on the stimulus frequency. A kinetically distinct "reserve" synaptic vesicle population was not observed under these experimental conditions. A frequency-dependent heterogeneity of presynaptic terminals was revealed that was dependent in part on D2 dopamine receptors, indicating a mechanism for frequency-dependent coding of presynaptic selection.
Hui Zhang and Niko G. Gubernator contributed equally to this work.
Neuroscience, Issue 30, striatal slice, dopamine, synapse, synaptic vesicles, amphetamine, optical imaging, fluorescence, release
Presynaptically Silent Synapses Studied with Light Microscopy
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
Synaptic plasticity likely underlies the nervous system's ability to learn and remember and may also represent an adaptability that prevents otherwise damaging insults from becoming neurotoxic. We have been studying a form of presynaptic plasticity that is interesting in part because it is expressed as a digital switching on and off of a presynaptic terminal s ability to release vesicles containing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Here we demonstrate a protocol for visualizing the activity status of presynaptic terminals in dissociated cell cultures prepared from the rodent hippocampus. The method relies on detecting active synapses using staining with a fixable form of the styryl dye FM1-43, commonly used to label synaptic vesicles. This staining profile is compared with immunostaining of the same terminals with an antibody directed against the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT-1), a stain designed to label all glutamate synapses regardless of activation status. We find that depolarizing stimuli induce presynaptic silencing. The population of synapses that is silent under baseline conditions can be activated by prolonged electrical silencing or by activation of cAMP signaling pathways.
Neurobiology, Issue 35, glutamate, synaptic plasticity, cAMP, excitotoxicity, homeostasis, FM1-43, presynaptic plasticity
Visualizing Clathrin-mediated Endocytosis of G Protein-coupled Receptors at Single-event Resolution via TIRF Microscopy
Institutions: Carnegie Mellon University.
Many important signaling receptors are internalized through the well-studied process of clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME). Traditional cell biological assays, measuring global changes in endocytosis, have identified over 30 known components participating in CME, and biochemical studies have generated an interaction map of many of these components. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that CME is a highly dynamic process whose regulation is complex and delicate. In this manuscript, we describe the use of Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy to directly visualize the dynamics of components of the clathrin-mediated endocytic machinery, in real time in living cells, at the level of individual events that mediate this process. This approach is essential to elucidate the subtle changes that can alter endocytosis without globally blocking it, as is seen with physiological regulation. We will focus on using this technique to analyze an area of emerging interest, the role of cargo composition in modulating the dynamics of distinct clathrin-coated pits (CCPs). This protocol is compatible with a variety of widely available fluorescence probes, and may be applied to visualizing the dynamics of many cargo molecules that are internalized from the cell surface.
Cellular Biology, Issue 92, Endocytosis, TIRF, total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, clathrin, arrestin, receptors, live-cell microscopy, clathrin-mediated endocytosis
Characterizing the Composition of Molecular Motors on Moving Axonal Cargo Using "Cargo Mapping" Analysis
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, University of California San Diego, University of California San Diego, University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Understanding the mechanisms by which molecular motors coordinate their activities to transport vesicular cargoes within neurons requires the quantitative analysis of motor/cargo associations at the single vesicle level. The goal of this protocol is to use quantitative fluorescence microscopy to correlate (“map”) the position and directionality of movement of live cargo to the composition and relative amounts of motors associated with the same cargo. “Cargo mapping” consists of live imaging of fluorescently labeled cargoes moving in axons cultured on microfluidic devices, followed by chemical fixation during recording of live movement, and subsequent immunofluorescence (IF) staining of the exact same axonal regions with antibodies against motors. Colocalization between cargoes and their associated motors is assessed by assigning sub-pixel position coordinates to motor and cargo channels, by fitting Gaussian functions to the diffraction-limited point spread functions representing individual fluorescent point sources. Fixed cargo and motor images are subsequently superimposed to plots of cargo movement, to “map” them to their tracked trajectories. The strength of this protocol is the combination of live and IF data to record both the transport of vesicular cargoes in live cells and to determine the motors associated to these exact same vesicles. This technique overcomes previous challenges that use biochemical methods to determine the average motor composition of purified heterogeneous bulk vesicle populations, as these methods do not reveal compositions on single moving cargoes. Furthermore, this protocol can be adapted for the analysis of other transport and/or trafficking pathways in other cell types to correlate the movement of individual intracellular structures with their protein composition. Limitations of this protocol are the relatively low throughput due to low transfection efficiencies of cultured primary neurons and a limited field of view available for high-resolution imaging. Future applications could include methods to increase the number of neurons expressing fluorescently labeled cargoes.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, kinesin, dynein, single vesicle, axonal transport, microfluidic devices, primary hippocampal neurons, quantitative fluorescence microscopy
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
Improved Preparation and Preservation of Hippocampal Mouse Slices for a Very Stable and Reproducible Recording of Long-term Potentiation
Institutions: University of Mons.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a type of synaptic plasticity characterized by an increase in synaptic strength and believed to be involved in memory encoding. LTP elicited in the CA1 region of acute hippocampal slices has been extensively studied. However the molecular mechanisms underlying the maintenance phase of this phenomenon are still poorly understood. This could be partly due to the various experimental conditions used by different laboratories. Indeed, the maintenance phase of LTP is strongly dependent on external parameters like oxygenation, temperature and humidity. It is also dependent on internal parameters like orientation of the slicing plane and slice viability after dissection.
The optimization of all these parameters enables the induction of a very reproducible and very stable long-term potentiation. This methodology offers the possibility to further explore the molecular mechanisms involved in the stable increase in synaptic strength in hippocampal slices. It also highlights the importance of experimental conditions in in vitro
investigation of neurophysiological phenomena.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Memory Disorders, Learning, Memory, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, hippocampus, long-term potentiation, mice, acute slices, synaptic plasticity, in vitro, electrophysiology, animal model
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
Vibrodissociation of Neurons from Rodent Brain Slices to Study Synaptic Transmission and Image Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ewha Womans University, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mechanical dissociation of neurons from the central nervous system has the advantage that presynaptic boutons remain attached to the isolated neuron of interest. This allows for examination of synaptic transmission under conditions where the extracellular and postsynaptic intracellular environments can be well controlled. A vibration-based technique without the use of proteases, known as vibrodissociation, is the most popular technique for mechanical isolation. A micropipette, with the tip fire-polished to the shape of a small ball, is placed into a brain slice made from a P1-P21 rodent. The micropipette is vibrated parallel to the slice surface and lowered through the slice thickness resulting in the liberation of isolated neurons. The isolated neurons are ready for study within a few minutes of vibrodissociation. This technique has advantages over the use of primary neuronal cultures, brain slices and enzymatically isolated neurons including: rapid production of viable, relatively mature neurons suitable for electrophysiological and imaging studies; superior control of the extracellular environment free from the influence of neighboring cells; suitability for well-controlled pharmacological experiments using rapid drug application and total cell superfusion; and improved space-clamp in whole-cell recordings relative to neurons in slice or cell culture preparations. This preparation can be used to examine synaptic physiology, pharmacology, modulation and plasticity. Real-time imaging of both pre- and postsynaptic elements in the living cells and boutons is also possible using vibrodissociated neurons. Characterization of the molecular constituents of pre- and postsynaptic elements can also be achieved with immunological and imaging-based approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, neuronal dissociation, synaptic transmission, GABA, calcium imaging, electrophysiology, hippocampus, striatum
Super-resolution Imaging of Neuronal Dense-core Vesicles
Institutions: Lewis & Clark College, Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Health & Science University, Lewis & Clark College.
Detection of fluorescence provides the foundation for many widely utilized and rapidly advancing microscopy techniques employed in modern biological and medical applications. Strengths of fluorescence include its sensitivity, specificity, and compatibility with live imaging. Unfortunately, conventional forms of fluorescence microscopy suffer from one major weakness, diffraction-limited resolution in the imaging plane, which hampers studies of structures with dimensions smaller than ~250 nm. Recently, this limitation has been overcome with the introduction of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques, such as photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM). Unlike its conventional counterparts, PALM can produce images with a lateral resolution of tens of nanometers. It is thus now possible to use fluorescence, with its myriad strengths, to elucidate a spectrum of previously inaccessible attributes of cellular structure and organization.
Unfortunately, PALM is not trivial to implement, and successful strategies often must be tailored to the type of system under study. In this article, we show how to implement single-color PALM studies of vesicular structures in fixed, cultured neurons. PALM is ideally suited to the study of vesicles, which have dimensions that typically range from ~50-250 nm. Key steps in our approach include labeling neurons with photoconvertible (green to red) chimeras of vesicle cargo, collecting sparsely sampled raw images with a super-resolution microscopy system, and processing the raw images to produce a high-resolution PALM image. We also demonstrate the efficacy of our approach by presenting exceptionally well-resolved images of dense-core vesicles (DCVs) in cultured hippocampal neurons, which refute the hypothesis that extrasynaptic trafficking of DCVs is mediated largely by DCV clusters.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, photoactivated localization microscopy, Dendra2, dense-core vesicle, synapse, hippocampal neuron, cluster
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