Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g., calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
Proprioception and Tension Receptors in Crab Limbs: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky, University of Oregon.
The primary purpose of these procedures is to demonstrate for teaching and research purposes how to record the activity of living primary sensory neurons responsible for proprioception as they are detecting joint position and movement, and muscle tension. Electrical activity from crustacean proprioceptors and tension receptors is recorded by basic neurophysiological instrumentation, and a transducer is used to simultaneously measure force that is generated by stimulating a motor nerve. In addition, we demonstrate how to stain the neurons for a quick assessment of their anatomical arrangement or for permanent fixation. Staining reveals anatomical organization that is representative of chordotonal organs in most crustaceans. Comparing the tension nerve responses to the proprioceptive responses is an effective teaching tool in determining how these sensory neurons are defined functionally and how the anatomy is correlated to the function. Three staining techniques are presented allowing researchers and instructors to choose a method that is ideal for their laboratory.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Crustacean, joint, Muscle, sensory, teaching, educational, neuroscience
Dissection of the Transversus Abdominis Muscle for Whole-mount Neuromuscular Junction Analysis
Institutions: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Edinburgh.
Analysis of neuromuscular junction morphology can give important insight into the physiological status of a given motor neuron. Analysis of thin flat muscles can offer significant advantage over traditionally used thicker muscles, such as those from the hind limb (e.g
). Thin muscles allow for comprehensive overview of the entire innervation pattern for a given muscle, which in turn permits identification of selectively vulnerable pools of motor neurons. These muscles also allow analysis of parameters such as motor unit size, axonal branching, and terminal/nodal sprouting. A common obstacle in using such muscles is gaining the technical expertise to dissect them. In this video, we detail the protocol for dissecting the transversus abdominis
(TVA) muscle from young mice and performing immunofluorescence to visualize axons and neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). We demonstrate that this technique gives a complete overview of the innervation pattern of the TVA muscle and can be used to investigate NMJ pathology in a mouse model of the childhood motor neuron disease, spinal muscular atrophy.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Transversus Abdominis, neuromuscular junction, NMJ, dissection, mouse, immunofluorescence
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
Production and Isolation of Axons from Sensory Neurons for Biochemical Analysis Using Porous Filters
Institutions: Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.
Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, neuron, axon, filter inserts, culture system, dorsal root ganglion, axonal degeneration
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
Isolation and Culture of Dissociated Sensory Neurons From Chick Embryos
Institutions: Assumption College.
Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo
can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro
can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, dorsal root gangia, DRG, chicken, in vitro, avian, laminin-1, embryonic, primary
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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
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
Promotion of Survival and Differentiation of Neural Stem Cells with Fibrin and Growth Factor Cocktails after Severe Spinal Cord Injury
Institutions: Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Diego, University of California, San Diego.
Neural stem cells (NSCs) can self-renew and differentiate into neurons and glia. Transplanted NSCs can replace lost neurons and glia after spinal cord injury (SCI), and can form functional relays to re-connect spinal cord segments above and below a lesion. Previous studies grafting neural stem cells have been limited by incomplete graft survival within the spinal cord lesion cavity. Further, tracking of graft cell survival, differentiation, and process extension had not been optimized. Finally, in previous studies, cultured rat NSCs were typically reported to differentiate into glia when grafted to the injured spinal cord, rather than neurons, unless fate was driven to a specific cell type. To address these issues, we developed new methods to improve the survival, integration and differentiation of NSCs to sites of even severe SCI. NSCs were freshly isolated from embryonic day 14 spinal cord (E14) from a stable transgenic Fischer 344 rat line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) and were embedded into a fibrin matrix containing growth factors; this formulation aimed to retain grafted cells in the lesion cavity and support cell survival. NSCs in the fibrin/growth factor cocktail were implanted two weeks after thoracic level-3 (T3) complete spinal cord transections, thereby avoiding peak periods of inflammation. Resulting grafts completely filled the lesion cavity and differentiated into both neurons, which extended axons into the host spinal cord over remarkably long distances, and glia. Grafts of cultured human NSCs expressing GFP resulted in similar findings. Thus, methods are defined for improving neural stem cell grafting, survival and analysis of in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 89, nervous system diseases, wounds and injuries, biological factors, therapeutics, surgical procedures, neural stem cells, transplantation, spinal cord injury, fibrin, growth factors
An Injury Paradigm to Investigate Central Nervous System Repair in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
An experimental method has been developed to investigate the cellular responses to central nervous system (CNS) injury using the fruit-fly Drosophila
. Understanding repair and regeneration in animals is a key question in biology. The damaged human CNS does not regenerate, and understanding how to promote the regeneration is one of main goals of medical neuroscience. The powerful genetic toolkit of Drosophila
can be used to tackle the problem of CNS regeneration.
A lesion to the CNS ventral nerve cord (VNC, equivalent to the vertebrate spinal cord) is applied manually with a tungsten needle. The VNC can subsequently be filmed in time-lapse using laser scanning confocal microscopy for up to 24 hr to follow the development of the lesion over time. Alternatively, it can be cultured, then fixed and stained using immunofluorescence to visualize neuron and glial cells with confocal microscopy. Using appropriate markers, changes in cell morphology and cell state as a result of injury can be visualized. With ImageJ and purposely developed plug-ins, quantitative and statistical analyses can be carried out to measure changes in wound size over time and the effects of injury in cell proliferation and cell death. These methods allow the analysis of large sample sizes. They can be combined with the powerful genetics of Drosophila
to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying CNS regeneration and repair.
Neurobiology, Issue 73, Developmental Biology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Central Nervous System, Neuroglia, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal models, Wounds and Injuries, Cell Physiological Phenomena, Genetic Phenomena, injury, repair, regeneration, central nervous system, ventral nerve cord, larva, live imaging, cell counting, Repo, GS2, glia, neurons, nerves, CNS, animal model
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6
. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7
. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant.
Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10
. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12
. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10
Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
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
A Functional Motor Unit in the Culture Dish: Co-culture of Spinal Cord Explants and Muscle Cells
Institutions: University of Basel.
Human primary muscle cells cultured aneurally in monolayer rarely contract spontaneously because, in the absence of a nerve component, cell differentiation is limited and motor neuron stimulation is missing1
. These limitations hamper the in vitro
study of many neuromuscular diseases in cultured muscle cells. Importantly, the experimental constraints of monolayered, cultured muscle cells can be overcome by functional innervation of myofibers with spinal cord explants in co-cultures.
Here, we show the different steps required to achieve an efficient, proper innervation of human primary muscle cells, leading to complete differentiation and fiber contraction according to the method developed by Askanas2
. To do so, muscle cells are co-cultured with spinal cord explants of rat embryos at ED 13.5, with the dorsal root ganglia still attached to the spinal cord slices. After a few days, the muscle fibers start to contract and eventually become cross-striated through innervation by functional neurites projecting from the spinal cord explants that connecting to the muscle cells. This structure can be maintained for many months, simply by regular exchange of the culture medium.
The applications of this invaluable tool are numerous, as it represents a functional model for multidisciplinary analyses of human muscle development and innervation. In fact, a complete de novo
neuromuscular junction installation occurs in a culture dish, allowing an easy measurement of many parameters at each step, in a fundamental and physiological context.
Just to cite a few examples, genomic and/or proteomic studies can be performed directly on the co-cultures. Furthermore, pre- and post-synaptic effects can be specifically and separately assessed at the neuromuscular junction, because both components come from different species, rat and human, respectively. The nerve-muscle co-culture can also be performed with human muscle cells isolated from patients suffering from muscle or neuromuscular diseases3
, and thus can be used as a screening tool for candidate drugs. Finally, no special equipment but a regular BSL2 facility is needed to reproduce a functional motor unit in a culture dish. This method thus is valuable for both the muscle as well as the neuromuscular research communities for physiological and mechanistic studies of neuromuscular function, in a normal and disease context.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Human primary muscle cells, embryonic spinal cord explants, neurites, innervation, contraction, cell culture
Measuring the Strength of Mice
Institutions: University of Oxford .
devised the inverted screen test and published it in 1964. It is a test of muscle strength using all four limbs. Most normal mice easily score maximum on this task; it is a quick but insensitive gross screen, and the weights test described in this article will provide a finer measure of muscular strength.
There are also several strain gauge-based pieces of apparatus available commercially that will provide more graded data than the inverted screen test, but their cost may put them beyond the reach of many laboratories which do not specialize in strength testing. Hence in 2000 a cheap and simple apparatus was devised by the author. It consists of a series of chain links of increasing length, attached to a "fur collector" a ball of fine wire mesh sold for preventing limescale build up in hard water areas. An accidental observation revealed that mice could grip these very tightly, so they proved ideal as a grip point for a weight-lifting apparatus. A common fault with commercial strength meters is that the bar or other grip feature is not thin enough for mice to exert a maximum grip. As a general rule, the thinner the wire or bar, the better a mouse can grip with its small claws.
This is a pure test of strength, although as for any test motivational factors could potentially play a role. The use of scale collectors, however, seems to minimize motivational problems as the motivation appears to be very high for most normal young adult mice.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Behavior, Psychology, Mice, strength, motor, inverted screen, weight lifting, animal model
Paired Patch Clamp Recordings from Motor-neuron and Target Skeletal Muscle in Zebrafish
Institutions: Oregon Health and Sciences University.
Larval zebrafish represent the first vertebrate model system to allow simultaneous patch clamp recording from a spinal motor-neuron and target muscle. This is a direct consequence of the accessibility to both cell types and ability to visually distinguish the single segmental CaP motor-neuron on the basis of morphology and location. This video demonstrates the microscopic methods used to identify a CaP motor-neuron and target muscle cells as well as the methodologies for recording from each cell type. Identification of the CaP motor-neuron type is confirmed by either dye filling or by the biophysical features such as action potential waveform and cell input resistance. Motor-neuron recordings routinely last for one hour permitting long-term recordings from multiple different target muscle cells. Control over the motor-neuron firing pattern enables measurements of the frequency-dependence of synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction. Owing to a large quantal size and the low noise provided by whole cell voltage clamp, all of the unitary events can be resolved in muscle. This feature permits study of basic synaptic properties such as release properties, vesicle recycling, as well as synaptic depression and facilitation. The advantages offered by this in vivo
preparation eclipse previous neuromuscular model systems studied wherein the motor-neurons are usually stimulated by extracellular electrodes and the muscles are too large for whole cell patch clamp. The zebrafish preparation is amenable to combining electrophysiological analysis with a wide range of approaches including transgenic lines, morpholino knockdown, pharmacological intervention and in vivo
imaging. These approaches, coupled with the growing number of neuromuscular disease models provided by mutant lines of zebrafish, open the door for new understanding of human neuromuscular disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Zebrafish, synapse, electrophysiology, patch clamp, acetylcholine receptor, neuromuscular, cholinergic/action potential, myasthenic syndrome, motor control
Live Imaging of Cell Motility and Actin Cytoskeleton of Individual Neurons and Neural Crest Cells in Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The zebrafish is an ideal model for imaging cell behaviors during development in vivo
. Zebrafish embryos are externally fertilized and thus easily accessible at all stages of development. Moreover, their optical clarity allows high resolution imaging of cell and molecular dynamics in the natural environment of the intact embryo. We are using a live imaging approach to analyze cell behaviors during neural crest cell migration and the outgrowth and guidance of neuronal axons.
Live imaging is particularly useful for understanding mechanisms that regulate cell motility processes. To visualize details of cell motility, such as protrusive activity and molecular dynamics, it is advantageous to label individual cells. In zebrafish, plasmid DNA injection yields a transient mosaic expression pattern and offers distinct benefits over other cell labeling methods. For example, transgenic lines often label entire cell populations and thus may obscure visualization of the fine protrusions (or changes in molecular distribution) in a single cell. In addition, injection of DNA at the one-cell stage is less invasive and more precise than dye injections at later stages.
Here we describe a method for labeling individual developing neurons or neural crest cells and imaging their behavior in vivo
. We inject plasmid DNA into 1-cell stage embryos, which results in mosaic transgene expression. The vectors contain cell-specific promoters that drive expression of a gene of interest in a subset of sensory neurons or neural crest cells. We provide examples of cells labeled with membrane targeted GFP or with a biosensor probe that allows visualization of F-actin in living cells1
Erica Andersen, Namrata Asuri, and Matthew Clay contributed equally to this work.
Developmental Biology, Issue 36, zebrafish, axon guidance, neural crest, cell behavior, actin, microinjection, embryos
Electrophysiological Methods for Recording Synaptic Potentials from the NMJ of Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
In this video, we describe the electrophysiological methods for recording synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) of Drosophila larva. The larval neuromuscular system is a model synapse for the study of synaptic physiology and neurotransmission, and is a valuable research tool that has defined genetics and is accessible to experimental manipulation. Larvae can be dissected to expose the body wall musculature, central nervous system, and peripheral nerves. The muscles of Drosophila and their innervation pattern are well characterized and muscles are easy to access for intracellular recording. Individual muscles can be identified by their location and orientation within the 8 abdominal segments, each with 30 muscles arranged in a pattern that is repeated in segments A2 - A7. Dissected drosophila larvae are thin and individual muscles and bundles of motor neuron axons can be visualized by transillumination1
. Transgenic constructs can be used to label target cells for visual identification or for manipulating gene products in specific tissues. In larvae, excitatory junction potentials (EJP’s) are generated in response to vesicular release of glutamate from the motoneurons at the synapse. In dissected larvae, the EJP can be recorded in the muscle with an intracellular electrode. Action potentials can be artificially evoked in motor neurons that have been cut posterior to the ventral ganglion, drawn into a glass pipette by gentle suction and stimulated with an electrode. These motor neurons have distinct firing thresholds when stimulated, and when they fire simultaneously, they generate a response in the muscle. Signals transmitted across the NMJ synapse can be recorded in the muscles that the motor neurons innervate. The EJP’s and minature excitatory junction potentials (mEJP’s) are seen as changes in membrane potential. Electrophysiological responses are recorded at room temperature in modified minimal hemolymph-like solution2
(HL3) that contains 5 mM Mg2+
and 1.5 mM Ca2+
. Changes in the amplitude of evoked EJP’s can indicate differences in synaptic function and structure. Digitized recordings are analyzed for EJP amplitude, mEJP frequency and amplitude, and quantal content.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission, Drosophila larvae, electrophysiology
Actin Co-Sedimentation Assay; for the Analysis of Protein Binding to F-Actin
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
The actin cytoskeleton within the cell is a network of actin filaments that allows the movement of cells and cellular processes, and that generates tension and helps maintains cellular shape. Although the actin cytoskeleton is a rigid structure, it is a dynamic structure that is constantly remodeling. A number of proteins can bind to the actin cytoskeleton. The binding of a particular protein to F-actin is often desired to support cell biological observations or to further understand dynamic processes due to remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton. The actin co-sedimentation assay is an in vitro assay routinely used to analyze the binding of specific proteins or protein domains with F-actin. The basic principles of the assay involve an incubation of the protein of interest (full length or domain of) with F-actin, ultracentrifugation step to pellet F-actin and analysis of the protein co-sedimenting with F-actin. Actin co-sedimentation assays can be designed accordingly to measure actin binding affinities and in competition assays.
Biochemistry, Issue 13, F-actin, protein, in vitro binding, ultracentrifugation
ALS - Motor Neuron Disease: Mechanism and Development of New Therapies
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Medicine, Issue 6, Translational Research, Neuroscience, ALS, stem cells, brain, neuron, upper motor neuron, transplantation
Monitoring Actin Disassembly with Time-lapse Microscopy
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, cytoskeleton, actin, timelapse, filament, chamber