The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a versatile model organism for biomedical research because of its conservation of disease-related genes and pathways as well as its ease of cultivation. Several C. elegans disease models have been reported, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease (PD), which involves the degeneration of dopaminergic (DA) neurons 1. Both transgenes and neurotoxic chemicals have been used to induce DA neurodegeneration and consequent movement defects in worms, allowing for investigations into the basis of neurodegeneration and screens for neuroprotective genes and compounds 2,3.
Screens in lower eukaryotes like C. elegans provide an efficient and economical means to identify compounds and genes affecting neuronal signaling. Conventional screens are typically performed manually and scored by visual inspection; consequently, they are time-consuming and prone to human errors. Additionally, most focus on cellular level analysis while ignoring locomotion, which is an especially important parameter for movement disorders.
We have developed a novel microfluidic screening system (Figure 1) that controls and quantifies C. elegans' locomotion using electric field stimuli inside microchannels. We have shown that a Direct Current (DC) field can robustly induce on-demand locomotion towards the cathode ("electrotaxis") 4. Reversing the field's polarity causes the worm to quickly reverse its direction as well. We have also shown that defects in dopaminergic and other sensory neurons alter the swimming response 5. Therefore, abnormalities in neuronal signaling can be determined using locomotion as a read-out. The movement response can be accurately quantified using a range of parameters such as swimming speed, body bending frequency and reversal time.
Our work has revealed that the electrotactic response varies with age. Specifically, young adults respond to a lower range of electric fields and move faster compared to larvae 4. These findings led us to design a new microfluidic device to passively sort worms by age and phenotype 6.
We have also tested the response of worms to pulsed DC and Alternating Current (AC) electric fields. Pulsed DC fields of various duty cycles effectively generated electrotaxis in both C. elegans and its cousin C. briggsae 7. In another experiment, symmetrical AC fields with frequencies ranging from 1 Hz to 3 KHz immobilized worms inside the channel 8.
Implementation of the electric field in a microfluidic environment enables rapid and automated execution of the electrotaxis assay. This approach promises to facilitate high-throughput genetic and chemical screens for factors affecting neuronal function and viability.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans
has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans
triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans
. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
A Method for Culturing Embryonic C. elegans Cells
Institutions: University of Miami .
is a powerful model system, in which genetic and molecular techniques are easily applicable. Until recently though, techniques that require direct access to cells and isolation of specific cell types, could not be applied in C. elegans
. This limitation was due to the fact that tissues are confined within a pressurized cuticle which is not easily digested by treatment with enzymes and/or detergents. Based on early pioneer work by Laird Bloom, Christensen and colleagues 1
developed a robust method for culturing C. elegans
embryonic cells in large scale. Eggs are isolated from gravid adults by treatment with bleach/NaOH and subsequently treated with chitinase to remove the eggshells. Embryonic cells are then dissociated by manual pipetting and plated onto substrate-covered glass in serum-enriched media. Within 24 hr of isolation cells begin to differentiate by changing morphology and by expressing cell specific markers. C. elegans
cells cultured using this method survive for up 2 weeks in vitro
and have been used for electrophysiological, immunochemical, and imaging analyses as well as they have been sorted and used for microarray profiling.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Eukaryota, Biological Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, C. elegans, cell culture, embryonic cells
Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans
. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans
genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
Automated Separation of C. elegans Variably Colonized by a Bacterial Pathogen
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley.
The wormsorter is an instrument analogous to a FACS machine that is used in studies of Caenorhabditis elegans
, typically to sort worms based on expression of a fluorescent reporter. Here, we highlight an alternative usage of this instrument, for sorting worms according to their degree of colonization by a GFP-expressing pathogen. This new usage allowed us to address the relationship between colonization of the worm intestine and induction of immune responses. While C. elegans
immune responses to different pathogens have been documented, it is still unknown what initiates them. The two main possibilities (which are not mutually exclusive) are recognition of pathogen-associated molecular patterns, and detection of damage caused by infection. To differentiate between the two possibilities, exposure to the pathogen must be dissociated from the damage it causes. The wormsorter enabled separation of worms that were extensively-colonized by the Gram-negative pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa
, with the damage likely caused by pathogen load, from worms that were similarly exposed, but not, or marginally, colonized. These distinct populations were used to assess the relationship between pathogen load and the induction of transcriptional immune responses. The results suggest that the two are dissociated, supporting the possibility of pathogen recognition.
Immunology, Issue 85, Innate Immunity, C. elegans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, wormsorter, pathogen recognition
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
Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging of Caenorhabditis elegans Locomotion Including Force Estimates
Institutions: Vassar College, Vassar College.
This study demonstrates an inexpensive and straightforward technique that allows the measurement of physical properties such as position, velocity, acceleration and forces involved in the locomotory behavior of nematodes suspended in a column of water in response to single wavelengths of light. We demonstrate how to evaluate the locomotion of a microscopic organism using Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging (SWSI) using two different examples.
The first example is a systematic and statistically viable study of the average descent of C. elegans
in a column of water. For this study, we used living and dead wildtype C. elegans.
When we compared the velocity and direction of nematode active movement with the passive descent of dead worms within the gravitational field, this study showed no difference in descent-times. The average descent was 1.5 mm/sec ± 0.1 mm/sec for both the live and dead worms using 633 nm coherent light.
The second example is a case study of select individual C. elegans
changing direction during the descent in a vertical water column. Acceleration and force are analyzed in this example. This case study demonstrates the scope of other physical properties that can be evaluated using SWSI while evaluating the behavior using single wavelengths in an environment that is not accessible with traditional microscopes. Using this analysis we estimated an individual nematode is capable of thrusting with a force in excess of 28 nN.
Our findings indicate that living nematodes exert 28 nN when turning, or moving against the gravitational field. The findings further suggest that nematodes passively descend in a column of water, but can actively resist the force of gravity primarily by turning direction.
Physics, Issue 86, C. elegans, nematode, shadow imaging, locomotion, video analysis, swimming behavior, force
Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
In this protocol, we present the required materials, and the procedure for making modified C. elegans
Habituation and Reproduction media (mCeHR). Additionally, the steps for exposing and acclimatizing C. elegans
grown on E. coli
to axenic liquid media are described. Finally, downstream experiments that utilize axenic C. elegans
illustrate the benefits of this procedure. The ability to analyze and determine C. elegans
nutrient requirement was illustrated by growing N2 wild type worms in axenic liquid media with varying heme concentrations. This procedure can be replicated with other nutrients to determine the optimal concentration for worm growth and development or, to determine the toxicological effects of drug treatments. The effects of varied heme concentrations on the growth of wild type worms were determined through qualitative microscopic observation and by quantitating the number of worms that grew in each heme concentration. In addition, the effect of varied nutrient concentrations can be assayed by utilizing worms that express fluorescent sensors that respond to changes in the nutrient of interest. Furthermore, a large number of worms were easily produced for the generation of transgenic C. elegans
using microparticle bombardment.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, C. elegans, axenic media, transgenics, microparticle bombardment, heme, nutrition
C. elegans Chemotaxis Assay
Institutions: Queen's University , Queen's University , Queen's University .
Many organisms use chemotaxis to seek out food sources, avoid noxious substances, and find mates. Caenorhabditis elegans
has impressive chemotaxis behavior.
The premise behind testing the response of the worms to an odorant is to place them in an area and observe the movement evoked in response to an odorant. Even with the many available assays, optimizing worm starting location relative to both the control and test areas, while minimizing the interaction of worms with each other, while maintaining a significant sample size remains a work in progress 1-10
. The method described here aims to address these issues by modifying the assay developed by Bargmann et al
. A Petri dish is divided into four quadrants, two opposite quadrants marked "Test" and two are designated "Control". Anesthetic is placed in all test and control sites. The worms are placed in the center of the plate with a circle marked around the origin to ensure that non-motile worms will be ignored. Utilizing a four-quadrant system rather than one 2 or two 1 eliminates bias in the movement of the worms, as they are equidistant from test and control samples, regardless of which side of the origin they began. This circumvents the problem of worms being forced to travel through a cluster of other worms to respond to an odorant, which can delay worms or force them to take a more circuitous route, yielding an incorrect interpretation of their intended path. This method also shows practical advantages by having a larger sample size and allowing the researcher to run the assay unattended and score the worms once the allotted time has expired.
Behavior, Issue 74, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Chemical Engineering, chemotaxis, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, chemotaxis assay, nematode, chemotactic index, worm movement, animal model
Quantitative Locomotion Study of Freely Swimming Micro-organisms Using Laser Diffraction
Institutions: Vassar College, Vassar College.
Soil and aquatic microscopic organisms live and behave in a complex three-dimensional environment. Most studies of microscopic organism behavior, in contrast, have been conducted using microscope-based approaches, which limit the movement and behavior to a narrow, nearly two-dimensional focal field.1
We present a novel analytical approach that provides real-time analysis of freely swimming C. elegans
in a cuvette without dependence on microscope-based equipment. This approach consists of tracking the temporal periodicity of diffraction patterns generated by directing laser light through the cuvette. We measure oscillation frequencies for freely swimming nematodes.
Analysis of the far-field diffraction patterns reveals clues about the waveforms of the nematodes. Diffraction is the process of light bending around an object. In this case light is diffracted by the organisms. The light waves interfere and can form a diffraction pattern. A far-field, or Fraunhofer, diffraction pattern is formed if the screen-to-object distance is much larger than the diffracting object. In this case, the diffraction pattern can be calculated (modeled) using a Fourier transform.2C. elegans
are free-living soil-dwelling nematodes that navigate in three dimensions. They move both on a solid matrix like soil or agar in a sinusoidal locomotory pattern called crawling and in liquid in a different pattern called swimming.3
The roles played by sensory information provided by mechanosensory, chemosensory, and thermosensory cells that govern plastic changes in locomotory patterns and switches in patterns are only beginning to be elucidated.4
We describe an optical approach to measuring nematode locomotion in three dimensions that does not require a microscope and will enable us to begin to explore the complexities of nematode locomotion under different conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, diffraction, video analysis, freely swimming, autocorrelation, laser, locomotion
Measuring Caenorhabditis elegans Life Span on Solid Media
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Aging is a degenerative process characterized by a progressive deterioration of cellular components and organelles resulting in mortality. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans
has emerged as a principal model used to study the biology of aging. Because virtually every biological subsystem undergoes functional decline with increasing age, life span is the primary endpoint of interest when considering total rate of aging. In nematodes, life span is typically defined as the number of days an animal remains responsive to external stimuli. Nematodes can be propagated either in liquid media or on solid media in plates, and techniques have been developed for measuring life span under both conditions. Here we present a generalized protocol for measuring life span of nematodes maintained on solid nematode growth media and fed a diet of UV-killed bacteria. These procedures can easily be adapted to assay life span under various common conditions, including a diet consisting of live bacteria, dietary restriction, and RNA interference.
Developmental Biology, Issue 27, Caenorhabditis elegans, aging, longevity, life span assay, worms, nematode, dietary restriction, RNA interference
Assaying β-amyloid Toxicity using a Transgenic C. elegans Model
Institutions: University of Colorado, University of Colorado.
Accumulation of the β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) is generally believed to be central to the induction of Alzheimer's disease, but the relevant mechanism(s) of toxicity are still unclear. Aβ is also deposited intramuscularly in Inclusion Body Myositis, a severe human myopathy. The intensely studied nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans
can be transgenically engineered to express human Aβ. Depending on the tissue or timing of Aβ expression, transgenic worms can have readily measurable phenotypes that serve as a read-out of Aβ toxicity. For example, transgenic worms with pan-neuronal Aβ expression have defects is associative learning (Dosanjh et al.
2009), while transgenic worms with constitutive muscle-specific expression show a progressive, age-dependent paralysis phenotype (Link, 1995; Cohen et al.
2006). One particularly useful C. elegans
model employs a temperature-sensitive mutation in the mRNA surveillance system to engineer temperature-inducible muscle expression of an Aβ transgene, resulting in a reproducible paralysis phenotype upon temperature upshift (Link et al.
2003). Treatments that counter Aβ toxicity in this model [e.g., expression of a protective transgene (Hassan et al.
2009) or exposure to Ginkgo biloba extracts (Wu et al.
2006)] reproducibly alter the rate of paralysis induced by temperature upshift of these transgenic worms. Here we describe our protocol for measuring the rate of paralysis in this transgenic C. elegans
model, with particular attention to experimental variables that can influence this measurement.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Alzheimer's disease, paralysis, compound screening, Inclusion Body Myositis, invertebrate model
Stable Isotopic Profiling of Intermediary Metabolic Flux in Developing and Adult Stage Caenorhabditis elegans
Institutions: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania.
Stable isotopic profiling has long permitted sensitive investigations of the metabolic consequences of genetic mutations and/or pharmacologic therapies in cellular and mammalian models. Here, we describe detailed methods to perform stable isotopic profiling of intermediary metabolism and metabolic flux in the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans
. Methods are described for profiling whole worm free amino acids, labeled carbon dioxide, labeled organic acids, and labeled amino acids in animals exposed to stable isotopes either from early development on nematode growth media agar plates or beginning as young adults while exposed to various pharmacologic treatments in liquid culture. Free amino acids are quantified by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) in whole worm aliquots extracted in 4% perchloric acid. Universally labeled 13
C-glucose or 1,6-13
-glucose is utilized as the stable isotopic precursor whose labeled carbon is traced by mass spectrometry in carbon dioxide (both atmospheric and dissolved) as well as in metabolites indicative of flux through glycolysis, pyruvate metabolism, and the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Representative results are included to demonstrate effects of isotope exposure time, various bacterial clearing protocols, and alternative worm disruption methods in wild-type nematodes, as well as the relative extent of isotopic incorporation in mitochondrial complex III mutant worms (isp-1(qm150)
) relative to wild-type worms. Application of stable isotopic profiling in living nematodes provides a novel capacity to investigate at the whole animal level real-time metabolic alterations that are caused by individual genetic disorders and/or pharmacologic therapies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 48, Stable isotope, amino acid quantitation, organic acid quantitation, nematodes, metabolism
Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans
is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans
is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo
. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo
. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans
provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo
in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
C. elegans Positive Butanone Learning, Short-term, and Long-term Associative Memory Assays
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
The memory of experiences and learned information is critical for organisms to make choices that aid their survival. C. elegans
navigates its environment through neuron-specific detection of food and chemical odors1, 2
, and can associate nutritive states with chemical odors3
, and the pathogenicity of a food source5
Here, we describe assays of C. elegans
associative learning and short- and long-term associative memory. We modified an aversive olfactory learning paradigm6
to instead produce a positive response; the assay involves starving ~400 worms, then feeding the worms in the presence of the AWC neuron-sensed volatile chemoattractant butanone at a concentration that elicits a low chemotactic index (similar to Toroyama et al.7
). A standard population chemotaxis assay1 tests the worms' attraction to the odorant immediately or minutes to hours after conditioning.
After conditioning, wild-type animals' chemotaxis to butanone increases ~0.6 Chemotaxis Index units, its "Learning Index". Associative learning is dependent on the presence of both food and butanone during training. Pairing food and butanone for a single conditioning period ("massed training") produces short-term associative memory that lasts ~2 hours. Multiple conditioning periods with rest periods between ("spaced training") yields long-term associative memory (<40 hours), and is dependent on the cAMP Response Element Binding protein (CREB),6
a transcription factor required for long-term memory across species.8
Our protocol also includes image analysis methods for quick and accurate determination of chemotaxis indices. High-contrast images of animals on chemotaxis assay plates are captured and analyzed by worm counting software in MatLab. The software corrects for uneven background using a morphological tophat transformation.9
Otsu's method is then used to determine a threshold to separate worms from the background.10
Very small particles are removed automatically and larger non-worm regions (plate edges or agar punches) are removed by manual selection. The software then estimates the size of single worm by ignoring regions that are above a specified maximum size and taking the median size of the remaining regions. The number of worms is then estimated by dividing the total area identified as occupied by worms by the estimated size of a single worm.
We have found that learning and short- and long-term memory can be distinguished, and that these processes share similar key molecules with higher organisms.6,8
Our assays can quickly test novel candidate genes or molecules that affect learning and short- or long-term memory in C. elegans
that are relevant across species.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, memory, associative learning, C. elegans, chemotaxis, spaced training, behavior
High-throughput Screening and Biosensing with Fluorescent C. elegans Strains
Institutions: University of Florida, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
High-throughput screening (HTS) is a powerful approach for identifying chemical modulators of biological processes. However, many compounds identified in screens using cell culture models are often found to be toxic or pharmacologically inactive in vivo1-2
. Screening in whole animal models can help avoid these pitfalls and streamline the path to drug development.
is a multicellular model organism well suited for HTS. It is small (<1 mm) and can be economically cultured and dispensed in liquids. C. elegans
is also one of the most experimentally tractable animal models permitting rapid and detailed identification of drug mode-of-action3
We describe a protocol for culturing and dispensing fluorescent strains of C. elegans
for high-throughput screening of chemical libraries or detection of environmental contaminants that alter the expression of a specific gene. Large numbers of developmentally synchronized worms are grown in liquid culture, harvested, washed, and suspended at a defined density. Worms are then added to black, flat-bottomed 384-well plates using a peristaltic liquid dispenser. Small molecules from a chemical library or test samples (e.g., water, food, or soil) can be added to wells with worms. In vivo
, real-time fluorescence intensity is measured with a fluorescence microplate reader. This method can be adapted to any inducible gene in C. elegans
for which a suitable reporter is available. Many inducible stress and developmental transcriptional pathways are well defined in C. elegans
and GFP transgenic reporter strains already exist for many of them4
. When combined with the appropriate transgenic reporters, our method can be used to screen for pathway modulators or to develop robust biosensor assays for environmental contaminants.
We demonstrate our C. elegans
culture and dispensing protocol with an HTS assay we developed to monitor the C. elegans
cap ‘n’ collar transcription factor SKN-1. SKN-1 and its mammalian homologue Nrf2 activate cytoprotective genes during oxidative and xenobiotic stress5-10
. Nrf2 protects mammals from numerous age-related disorders such as cancer, neurodegeneration, and chronic inflammation and has become a major chemotherapeutic target11-13
.Our assay is based on a GFP transgenic reporter for the SKN-1 target gene gst
, which encodes a glutathione-s transferase6
. The gst
-4 reporter is also a biosensor for xenobiotic and oxidative chemicals that activate SKN-1 and can be used to detect low levels of contaminants such as acrylamide and methyl-mercury15-16
Neuroscience, Issue 51, High-Throughput screening, C. elegans, biosensor, drug discovery, Nrf2, small molecule, oxidant
Quantitative and Automated High-throughput Genome-wide RNAi Screens in C. elegans
Institutions: Université de la Méditerranée.
RNA interference is a powerful method to understand gene function, especially when conducted at a whole-genome scale and in a quantitative context. In C. elegans
, gene function can be knocked down simply and efficiently by feeding worms with bacteria expressing a dsRNA corresponding to a specific gene 1
. While the creation of libraries of RNAi clones covering most of the C. elegans
opened the way for true functional genomic studies (see for example 4-7
), most established methods are laborious. Moy and colleagues have developed semi-automated protocols that facilitate genome-wide screens 8
. The approach relies on microscopic imaging and image analysis.
Here we describe an alternative protocol for a high-throughput genome-wide screen, based on robotic handling of bacterial RNAi clones, quantitative analysis using the COPAS Biosort (Union Biometrica (UBI)), and an integrated software: the MBioLIMS (Laboratory Information Management System from Modul-Bio) a technology that provides increased throughput for data management and sample tracking. The method allows screens to be conducted on solid medium plates. This is particularly important for some studies, such as those addressing host-pathogen interactions in C. elegans
, since certain microbes do not efficiently infect worms in liquid culture.
We show how the method can be used to quantify the importance of genes in anti-fungal innate immunity in C. elegans
. In this case, the approach relies on the use of a transgenic strain carrying an epidermal infection-inducible fluorescent reporter gene, with GFP under the control of the promoter of the antimicrobial peptide gene nlp 29
and a red fluorescent reporter that is expressed constitutively in the epidermis. The latter provides an internal control for the functional integrity of the epidermis and nonspecific transgene silencing9
. When control worms are infected by the fungus they fluoresce green. Knocking down by RNAi a gene required for nlp 29
expression results in diminished fluorescence after infection. Currently, this protocol allows more than 3,000 RNAi clones to be tested and analyzed per week, opening the possibility of screening the entire genome in less than 2 months.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, C. elegans, fluorescent reporter, Biosort, LIMS, innate immunity, Drechmeria coniospora
C. elegans Tracking and Behavioral Measurement
Institutions: University of Toronto, Vrije Universiteit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, University of Toronto.
We have developed instrumentation, image processing, and data analysis techniques to quantify the locomotory behavior of C. elegans
as it crawls on the surface of an agar plate. For the study of the genetic, biochemical, and neuronal basis of behavior, C. elegans
is an ideal organism because it is genetically tractable, amenable to microscopy, and shows a number of complex behaviors, including taxis, learning, and social interaction1,2
. Behavioral analysis based on tracking the movements of worms as they crawl on agar plates have been particularly useful in the study of sensory behavior3
, and general mutational phenotyping5
. Our system works by moving the camera and illumination system as the worms crawls on a stationary agar plate, which ensures no mechanical stimulus is transmitted to the worm. Our tracking system is easy to use and includes a semi-automatic calibration feature. A challenge of all video tracking systems is that it generates an enormous amount of data that is intrinsically high dimensional. Our image processing and data analysis programs deal with this challenge by reducing the worms shape into a set of independent components, which comprehensively reconstruct the worms behavior as a function of only 3-4 dimensions6,7
. As an example of the process we show that the worm enters and exits its reversal state in a phase specific manner.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physics, Biophysics, Anatomy, Microscopy, Ethology, Behavior, Machine Vision, C. elegans, animal model
An Introduction to Worm Lab: from Culturing Worms to Mutagenesis
Institutions: University of Texas at Arlington.
This protocol describes procedures to maintain nematodes in the laboratory and how to mutagenize them using two alternative methods: ethyl methane sulfonate (EMS) and 4, 5', 8-trimethylpsoralen combined with ultraviolet light (TMP/UV). Nematodes are powerful biological systems for genetics studies because of their simple body plan and mating system, which is composed of self-fertilizing hermaphrodites and males that can generate hundreds of progeny per animal. Nematodes are maintained in agar plates containing a lawn of bacteria and can be easily transferred from one plate to another using a pick. EMS is an alkylating agent commonly used to induce point mutations and small deletions, while TMP/UV mainly induces deletions. Depending on the species of nematode being used, concentrations of EMS and TMP will have to be optimized. To isolate recessive mutations of the nematode Pristionchus pacificus
, animals of the F2 generation were visually screened for phenotypes. To illustrate these methods, we mutagenized worms and looked for Uncoordinated (Unc), Dumpy (Dpy) and Transformer (Tra) mutants.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Mutagenesis, Caenorhabditis elegans, Pristionchus pacificus, ethyl methane sulfonate (EMS), 4, 5', 8-trimethylpsoralen (TMP).