The Morris water maze is widely used to study spatial memory and learning. Animals are placed in a pool of water that is colored opaque with powdered non-fat milk or non-toxic tempera paint, where they must swim to a hidden escape platform. Because they are in opaque water, the animals cannot see the platform, and cannot rely on scent to find the escape route. Instead, they must rely on external/extra-maze cues. As the animals become more familiar with the task, they are able to find the platform more quickly. Developed by Richard G. Morris in 1984, this paradigm has become one of the "gold standards" of behavioral neuroscience.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Study Motor Skill Learning by Single-pellet Reaching Tasks in Mice
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
Reaching for and retrieving objects require precise and coordinated motor movements in the forelimb. When mice are repeatedly trained to grasp and retrieve food rewards positioned at a specific location, their motor performance (defined as accuracy and speed) improves progressively over time, and plateaus after persistent training. Once such reaching skill is mastered, its further maintenance does not require constant practice. Here we introduce a single-pellet reaching task to study the acquisition and maintenance of skilled forelimb movements in mice. In this video, we first describe the behaviors of mice that are commonly encountered in this learning and memory paradigm, and then discuss how to categorize these behaviors and quantify the observed results. Combined with mouse genetics, this paradigm can be utilized as a behavioral platform to explore the anatomical underpinnings, physiological properties, and molecular mechanisms of learning and memory.
Behavior, Issue 85, mouse, neuroscience, motor skill learning, single-pellet reaching, forelimb movements, Learning and Memory
Imaging Dendritic Spines of Rat Primary Hippocampal Neurons using Structured Illumination Microscopy
Institutions: University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam.
Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm.
Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro
, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Dendritic Spine, Microscopy, Confocal, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, hippocampus, primary neuron, super resolution microscopy, structured illumination microscopy (SIM), neuroscience, dendrite
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
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
Two-Photon in vivo Imaging of Dendritic Spines in the Mouse Cortex Using a Thinned-skull Preparation
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the mammalian cortex, neurons form extremely complicated networks and exchange information at synapses. Changes in synaptic strength, as well as addition/removal of synapses, occur in an experience-dependent manner, providing the structural foundation of neuronal plasticity. As postsynaptic components of the most excitatory synapses in the cortex, dendritic spines are considered to be a good proxy of synapses. Taking advantages of mouse genetics and fluorescent labeling techniques, individual neurons and their synaptic structures can be labeled in the intact brain. Here we introduce a transcranial imaging protocol using two-photon laser scanning microscopy to follow fluorescently labeled postsynaptic dendritic spines over time in vivo
. This protocol utilizes a thinned-skull preparation, which keeps the skull intact and avoids inflammatory effects caused by exposure of the meninges and the cortex. Therefore, images can be acquired immediately after surgery is performed. The experimental procedure can be performed repetitively over various time intervals ranging from hours to years. The application of this preparation can also be expanded to investigate different cortical regions and layers, as well as other cell types, under physiological and pathological conditions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, dendritic spine, mouse cortex, in vivo, two-photon microscopy, thinned-skull, imaging
A Mouse Model for Pathogen-induced Chronic Inflammation at Local and Systemic Sites
Institutions: Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine.
Chronic inflammation is a major driver of pathological tissue damage and a unifying characteristic of many chronic diseases in humans including neoplastic, autoimmune, and chronic inflammatory diseases. Emerging evidence implicates pathogen-induced chronic inflammation in the development and progression of chronic diseases with a wide variety of clinical manifestations. Due to the complex and multifactorial etiology of chronic disease, designing experiments for proof of causality and the establishment of mechanistic links is nearly impossible in humans. An advantage of using animal models is that both genetic and environmental factors that may influence the course of a particular disease can be controlled. Thus, designing relevant animal models of infection represents a key step in identifying host and pathogen specific mechanisms that contribute to chronic inflammation.
Here we describe a mouse model of pathogen-induced chronic inflammation at local and systemic sites following infection with the oral pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis
, a bacterium closely associated with human periodontal disease. Oral infection of specific-pathogen free mice induces a local inflammatory response resulting in destruction of tooth supporting alveolar bone, a hallmark of periodontal disease. In an established mouse model of atherosclerosis, infection with P. gingivalis
accelerates inflammatory plaque deposition within the aortic sinus and innominate artery, accompanied by activation of the vascular endothelium, an increased immune cell infiltrate, and elevated expression of inflammatory mediators within lesions. We detail methodologies for the assessment of inflammation at local and systemic sites. The use of transgenic mice and defined bacterial mutants makes this model particularly suitable for identifying both host and microbial factors involved in the initiation, progression, and outcome of disease. Additionally, the model can be used to screen for novel therapeutic strategies, including vaccination and pharmacological intervention.
Immunology, Issue 90,
Pathogen-Induced Chronic Inflammation; Porphyromonas gingivalis; Oral Bone Loss; Periodontal Disease; Atherosclerosis; Chronic Inflammation; Host-Pathogen Interaction; microCT; MRI
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
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
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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
Long-term Potentiation of Perforant Pathway-dentate Gyrus Synapse in Freely Behaving Mice
Institutions: Trinity College.
Studies of long-term potentiation of synaptic efficacy, an activity-dependent synaptic phenomenon having properties that make it attractive as a potential cellular mechanism underlying learning and information storage, have long been used to elucidate the physiology of various neuronal circuits in the hippocampus, amygdala, and other limbic and cortical structures. With this in mind, transgenic mouse models of neurological diseases represent useful platforms to conduct long-term potentiation (LTP) studies to develop a greater understanding of the role of genes in normal and abnormal synaptic communication in neuronal networks involved in learning, emotion and information processing. This article describes methodologies for reliably inducing LTP in the freely behaving mouse. These methodologies can be used in studies of transgenic and knockout freely behaving mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases.
Behavior, Issue 81, freely behaving animal, mouse, dentate gyrus, hippocampus, long term potentiation, electrophysical research technique
Preparation of Oligomeric β-amyloid1-42 and Induction of Synaptic Plasticity Impairment on Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: Columbia University.
Impairment of synaptic connections is likely to underlie the subtle amnesic changes occurring at the early stages of Alzheimer s Disease (AD). β-amyloid (Aβ), a peptide produced in high amounts in AD, is known to reduce Long-Term Potentiation (LTP), a cellular correlate of learning and memory. Indeed, LTP impairment caused by Aβ is a useful experimental paradigm for studying synaptic dysfunctions in AD models and for screening drugs capable of mitigating or reverting such synaptic impairments. Studies have shown that Aβ produces the LTP disruption preferentially via its oligomeric form. Here we provide a detailed protocol for impairing LTP by perfusion of oligomerized synthetic Aβ1-42 peptide onto acute hippocampal slices. In this video, we outline a step-by-step procedure for the preparation of oligomeric Aβ1-42
. Then, we follow an individual experiment in which LTP is reduced in hippocampal slices exposed to oligomerized Aβ1-42
compared to slices in a control experiment where no Aβ1-42
exposure had occurred.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, brain, mouse, hippocampus, plasticity, LTP, amyloid
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
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.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
Behavioural Pharmacology in Classical Conditioning of the Proboscis Extension Response in Honeybees (Apis mellifera)
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera
) are well known for their communication and orientation skills and for their impressive learning capability1,2
. Because the survival of a honeybee colony depends on the exploitation of food sources, forager bees learn and memorize variable flower sites as well as their profitability. Forager bees can be easily trained in natural settings where they forage at a feeding site and learn the related signals such as odor or color. Appetitive associative learning can also be studied under controlled conditions in the laboratory by conditioning the proboscis extension response (PER) of individually harnessed honeybees3,4
. This learning paradigm enables the study of the neuronal and molecular mechanisms that underlie learning and memory formation in a simple and highly reliable way5-12
. A behavioral pharmacology approach is used to study molecular mechanisms. Drugs are injected systemically to interfere with the function of specific molecules during or after learning and memory formation13-16
Here we demonstrate how to train harnessed honeybees in PER conditioning and how to apply drugs systemically by injection into the bee flight muscle.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Classical conditioning, behavioural pharmacology, insect, invertebrate, honeybee, learning, memory
Preparation of Acute Hippocampal Slices from Rats and Transgenic Mice for the Study of Synaptic Alterations during Aging and Amyloid Pathology
Institutions: University of Kentucky College of Public Health, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
The rodent hippocampal slice preparation is perhaps the most broadly used tool for investigating mammalian synaptic function and plasticity. The hippocampus can be extracted quickly and easily from rats and mice and slices remain viable for hours in oxygenated artificial cerebrospinal fluid. Moreover, basic electrophysisologic techniques are easily applied to the investigation of synaptic function in hippocampal slices and have provided some of the best biomarkers for cognitive impairments. The hippocampal slice is especially popular for the study of synaptic plasticity mechanisms involved in learning and memory. Changes in the induction of long-term potentiation and depression (LTP and LTD) of synaptic efficacy in hippocampal slices (or lack thereof) are frequently used to describe the neurologic phenotype of cognitively-impaired animals and/or to evaluate the mechanism of action of nootropic compounds. This article outlines the procedures we use for preparing hippocampal slices from rats and transgenic mice for the study of synaptic alterations associated with brain aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD)1-3
. Use of aged rats and AD model mice can present a unique set of challenges to researchers accustomed to using younger rats and/or mice in their research. Aged rats have thicker skulls and tougher connective tissue than younger rats and mice, which can delay brain extraction and/or dissection and consequently negate or exaggerate real age-differences in synaptic function and plasticity. Aging and amyloid pathology may also exacerbate hippocampal damage sustained during the dissection procedure, again complicating any inferences drawn from physiologic assessment. Here, we discuss the steps taken during the dissection procedure to minimize these problems. Examples of synaptic responses acquired in "healthy" and "unhealthy" slices from rats and mice are provided, as well as representative synaptic plasticity experiments. The possible impact of other methodological factors on synaptic function in these animal models (e.g. recording solution components, stimulation parameters) are also discussed. While the focus of this article is on the use of aged rats and transgenic mice, novices to slice physiology should find enough detail here to get started on their own studies, using a variety of rodent models.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, aging, amyloid, hippocampal slice, synaptic plasticity, Ca2+, CA1, electrophysiology
Organotypic Hippocampal Slice Cultures
Institutions: University of Washington School of Medicine.
The hippocampus, a component of the limbic system, plays important roles in long-term memory and spatial navigation 1
. Hippocampal neurons can modify the strength of their connections after brief periods of strong activation. This phenomenon, known as long-term potentiation (LTP) can last for hours or days and has become the best candidate mechanism for learning and memory 2
. In addition, the well defined anatomy and connectivity of the hippocampus 3
has made it a classical model system to study synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity4
As our understanding of the physiology of hippocampal synapses grew and molecular players became identified, a need to manipulate synaptic proteins became imperative. Organotypic hippocampal cultures offer the possibility for easy gene manipulation and precise pharmacological intervention but maintain synaptic organization that is critical to understanding synapse function in a more naturalistic context than routine culture dissociated neurons methods.
Here we present a method to prepare and culture hippocampal slices that can be easily adapted to other brain regions. This method allows easy access to the slices for genetic manipulation using different approaches like viral infection 5,6
or biolistics 7
. In addition, slices can be easily recovered for biochemical assays 8
, or transferred to microscopes for imaging 9
or electrophysiological experiments 10
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Hippocampus, Hippocampal formation, Brain Slices, Organotypic Cultures, Synaptic Transmission, Synaptic Physiology
Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
Visualization and Genetic Manipulation of Dendrites and Spines in the Mouse Cerebral Cortex and Hippocampus using In utero Electroporation
Institutions: MRC National Institute for Medical Research, National Institute for Medical Research, Université de Bordeaux.
In utero electroporation (IUE) has become a powerful technique to study the development of different regions of the embryonic nervous system 1-5
. To date this tool has been widely used to study the regulation of cellular proliferation, differentiation and neuronal migration especially in the developing cerebral cortex 6-8
. Here we detail our protocol to electroporate in utero the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus and provide evidence that this approach can be used to study dendrites and spines in these two cerebral regions.
Visualization and manipulation of neurons in primary cultures have contributed to a better understanding of the processes involved in dendrite, spine and synapse development. However neurons growing in vitro are not exposed to all the physiological cues that can affect dendrite and/or spine formation and maintenance during normal development. Our knowledge of dendrite and spine structures in vivo
in wild-type or mutant mice comes mostly from observations using the Golgi-Cox method 9
. However, Golgi staining is considered to be unpredictable. Indeed, groups of nerve cells and fiber tracts are labeled randomly, with particular areas often appearing completely stained while adjacent areas are devoid of staining. Recent studies have shown that IUE of fluorescent constructs represents an attractive alternative method to study dendrites, spines as well as synapses in mutant / wild-type mice 10-11
). Moreover in comparison to the generation of mouse knockouts, IUE represents a rapid approach to perform gain and loss of function studies in specific population of cells during a specific time window. In addition, IUE has been successfully used with inducible gene expression or inducible RNAi approaches to refine the temporal control over the expression of a gene or shRNA 12
. These advantages of IUE have thus opened new dimensions to study the effect of gene expression/suppression on dendrites and spines not only in specific cerebral structures (Figure 1B
) but also at a specific time point of development (Figure 1C
Finally, IUE provides a useful tool to identify functional interactions between genes involved in dendrite, spine and/or synapse development. Indeed, in contrast to other gene transfer methods such as virus, it is straightforward to combine multiple RNAi or transgenes in the same population of cells.
In summary, IUE is a powerful method that has already contributed to the characterization of molecular mechanisms underlying brain function and disease and it should also be useful in the study of dendrites and spines.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Neuronal development, In utero electroporation, dendrite, spines, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, gain and loss of function
Drosophila Adult Olfactory Shock Learning
Institutions: University of Bristol.
have been used in classical conditioning experiments for over 40 years, thus greatly facilitating our understanding of memory, including the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms involved in cognitive diseases1-7
. Learning and memory can be assayed in larvae to study the effect of neurodevelopmental genes8-10
and in flies to measure the contribution of adult plasticity genes1-7
. Furthermore, the short lifespan of Drosophila
facilitates the analysis of genes mediating age-related memory impairment5,11-13
. The availability of many inducible promoters that subdivide the Drosophila
nervous system makes it possible to determine when and where a gene of interest is required for normal memory as well as relay of different aspects of the reinforcement signal3,4,14,16
Studying memory in adult Drosophila
allows for a detailed analysis of the behavior and circuitry involved and a measurement of long-term memory15-17
. The length of the adult stage accommodates longer-term genetic, behavioral, dietary and pharmacological manipulations of memory, in addition to determining the effect of aging and neurodegenerative disease on memory3-6,11-13,15-21
Classical conditioning is induced by the simultaneous presentation of a neutral odor cue (conditioned stimulus, CS+
) and a reinforcement stimulus, e.g
., an electric shock or sucrose, (unconditioned stimulus, US), that become associated with one another by the animal1,16
. A second conditioned stimulus (CS-
) is subsequently presented without the US. During the testing phase, Drosophila
are simultaneously presented with CS+ and CS- odors. After the Drosophila
are provided time to choose between the odors, the distribution of the animals is recorded. This procedure allows associative aversive or appetitive conditioning to be reliably measured without a bias introduced by the innate preference for either of the conditioned stimuli. Various control experiments are also performed to test whether all genotypes respond normally to odor and reinforcement alone.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, Drosophila, Pavlovian learning, classical conditioning, learning, memory, olfactory, electric shock, associative memory
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