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 receptors (GABAARs) 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 GABAARs 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 GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR 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 GABAARs 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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Automated Separation of C. elegans Variably Colonized by a Bacterial Pathogen
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley.
The wormsorter is an instrument analogous to a FACS machine that is used in studies of Caenorhabditis elegans
, typically to sort worms based on expression of a fluorescent reporter. Here, we highlight an alternative usage of this instrument, for sorting worms according to their degree of colonization by a GFP-expressing pathogen. This new usage allowed us to address the relationship between colonization of the worm intestine and induction of immune responses. While C. elegans
immune responses to different pathogens have been documented, it is still unknown what initiates them. The two main possibilities (which are not mutually exclusive) are recognition of pathogen-associated molecular patterns, and detection of damage caused by infection. To differentiate between the two possibilities, exposure to the pathogen must be dissociated from the damage it causes. The wormsorter enabled separation of worms that were extensively-colonized by the Gram-negative pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa
, with the damage likely caused by pathogen load, from worms that were similarly exposed, but not, or marginally, colonized. These distinct populations were used to assess the relationship between pathogen load and the induction of transcriptional immune responses. The results suggest that the two are dissociated, supporting the possibility of pathogen recognition.
Immunology, Issue 85, Innate Immunity, C. elegans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, wormsorter, pathogen recognition
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
Methods for Studying the Mechanisms of Action of Antipsychotic Drugs in Caenorhabditis elegans
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital.
is a simple genetic organism amenable to large-scale forward and reverse genetic screens and chemical genetic screens. The C. elegans
genome includes potential antipsychotic drug (APD) targets conserved in humans, including genes encoding proteins required for neurotransmitter synthesis and for synaptic structure and function. APD exposure produces developmental delay and/or lethality in nematodes in a concentration-dependent manner. These phenotypes are caused, in part, by APD-induced inhibition of pharyngeal pumping1,2
. Thus, the developmental phenotype has a neuromuscular basis, making it useful for pharmacogenetic studies of neuroleptics. Here we demonstrate detailed procedures for testing APD effects on nematode development and pharyngeal pumping. For the developmental assay, synchronized embryos are placed on nematode growth medium (NGM) plates containing APDs, and the stages of developing animals are then scored daily. For the pharyngeal pumping rate assay, staged young adult animals are tested on NGM plates containing APDs. The number of pharyngeal pumps per unit time is recorded, and the pumping rate is calculated. These assays can be used for studying many other types of small molecules or even large molecules.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, antipsychotic drug, Caenorhabditis elegans, clozapine, developmental delay, lethality, nematode, pharmacogenetics, pharyngeal pumping, schizophrenia
Preparation of Aplysia Sensory-motor Neuronal Cell Cultures
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
The nervous system of the marine mollusk Aplysia californica
is relatively simple, consisting of approximately 20,000 neurons. The neurons are large (up to 1 mm in diameter) and identifiable, with distinct sizes, shapes, positions and pigmentations, and the cell bodies are externally exposed in five paired ganglia distributed throughout the body of the animal. These properties have allowed investigators to delineate the circuitry underlying specific behaviors in the animal1
. The monosynaptic connection between sensory and motor neurons is a central component of the gill-withdrawal reflex in the animal, a simple defensive reflex in which the animal withdraws its gill in response to tactile stimulation of the siphon. This reflex undergoes forms of non-associative and associative learning, including sensitization, habituation and classical conditioning. Of particular benefit to the study of synaptic plasticity, the sensory-motor synapse can be reconstituted in culture, where well-characterized stimuli elicit forms of plasticity that have direct correlates in the behavior of the animal2,3
. Specifically, application of serotonin produces a synaptic strengthening that, depending on the application protocol, lasts for minutes (short-term facilitation), hours (intermediate-term facilitation) or days (long-term facilitation). In contrast, application of the peptide transmitter FMRFamide produces a synaptic weakening or depression that, depending on the application protocol, can last from minutes to days (long-term depression). The large size of the neurons allows for repeated sharp electrode recording of synaptic strength over periods of days together with microinjection of expression vectors, siRNAs and other compounds to target specific signaling cascades and molecules and thereby identify the molecular and cell biological steps that underlie the changes in synaptic efficacy.
An additional advantage of the Aplysia
culture system comes from the fact that the neurons demonstrate synapse-specificity in culture4,5
. Thus, sensory neurons do not form synapses with themselves (autapses) or with other sensory neurons, nor do they form synapses with non-target identified motor neurons in culture. The varicosities, sites of synaptic contact between sensory and motor neurons, are large enough (2-7 microns in diameter) to allow synapse formation (as well as changes in synaptic morphology) with target motor neurons to be studied at the light microscopic level.
In this video, we demonstrate each step of preparing sensory-motor neuron cultures, including anesthetizing adult and juvenile Aplysia
, dissecting their ganglia, protease digestion of the ganglia, removal of the connective tissue by microdissection, identification of both sensory and motor neurons and removal of each cell type by microdissection, plating of the motor neuron, addition of the sensory neuron and manipulation of the sensory neurite to form contact with the cultured motor neuron.
Neuroscience, Issue 28, Aplysia Californica, Synaptic Plasticity, Sensory Motor Neuronal Cultures, Invertebrates, Short-Term Facilitation, Monosynaptic, Intermediate-Term Facilitation, Ganglia, Long-Term Depression, Autapses, Sirnas, Glutamatergic Synapses, Somata
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
A Method for Culturing Embryonic C. elegans Cells
Institutions: University of Miami .
is a powerful model system, in which genetic and molecular techniques are easily applicable. Until recently though, techniques that require direct access to cells and isolation of specific cell types, could not be applied in C. elegans
. This limitation was due to the fact that tissues are confined within a pressurized cuticle which is not easily digested by treatment with enzymes and/or detergents. Based on early pioneer work by Laird Bloom, Christensen and colleagues 1
developed a robust method for culturing C. elegans
embryonic cells in large scale. Eggs are isolated from gravid adults by treatment with bleach/NaOH and subsequently treated with chitinase to remove the eggshells. Embryonic cells are then dissociated by manual pipetting and plated onto substrate-covered glass in serum-enriched media. Within 24 hr of isolation cells begin to differentiate by changing morphology and by expressing cell specific markers. C. elegans
cells cultured using this method survive for up 2 weeks in vitro
and have been used for electrophysiological, immunochemical, and imaging analyses as well as they have been sorted and used for microarray profiling.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Eukaryota, Biological Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, C. elegans, cell culture, embryonic cells
Determining Genetic Expression Profiles in C. elegans Using Microarray and Real-time PCR
Institutions: Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Synapses are composed of a presynaptic active zone in the signaling cell and a postsynaptic terminal in the target cell. In the case of chemical synapses, messages are carried by neurotransmitters released from presynaptic terminals and received by receptors on postsynaptic cells. Our previous research in Caenorhabditis elegans
has shown that VSM-1 negatively regulates exocytosis. Additionally, analysis of synapses in vsm-1
mutants showed that animals lacking a fully functional VSM-1 have increased synaptic connectivity. Based on these preliminary findings, we hypothesized that C. elegans
VSM-1 may play a crucial role in synaptogenesis. To test this hypothesis, double-labeled microarray analysis was performed, and gene expression profiles were determined. First, total RNA was isolated, reversely transcribed to cDNA, and hybridized to the DNA microarrays. Then, in-silico analysis of fluorescent probe hybridization revealed significant induction of many genes coding for members of the major sperm protein family (MSP) in mutants with enhanced synaptogenesis. MSPs are the major component of sperm in C. elegans
and appear to signal nematode oocyte maturation and ovulation . In fruit flies, Chai and colleagues 1
demonstrated that MSP-like molecules regulate presynaptic bouton number and size at the neuromuscular junction. Moreover, analysis performed by Tsuda and coworkers 2
suggested that MSPs may act as ligands for Eph receptors and trigger receptor tyrosine kinase signaling cascades. Lastly, real time PCR analysis corroborated that the gene coding for MSP-32 is induced in vsm-1(ok1468)
mutants. Taken together, research performed by our laboratory has shown that vsm-1
mutants have a significant increase in synaptic density, which could be mediated by MSP-32 signaling.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, microarray, C. elegans, real-time PCR, neuroscience
Constructing a Low-budget Laser Axotomy System to Study Axon Regeneration in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Utah.
Laser axotomy followed by time-lapse microscopy is a sensitive assay for axon regeneration phenotypes in C. elegans1
. The main difficulty of this assay is the perceived cost ($25-100K) and technical expertise required for implementing a laser ablation system2,3
. However, solid-state pulse lasers of modest costs (<$10K) can provide robust performance for laser ablation in transparent preparations where target axons are "close" to the tissue surface. Construction and alignment of a system can be accomplished in a day. The optical path provided by light from the focused condenser to the ablation laser provides a convenient alignment guide. An intermediate module with all optics removed can be dedicated to the ablation laser and assures that no optical elements need be moved during a laser ablation session. A dichroic in the intermediate module allows simultaneous imaging and laser ablation. Centering the laser beam to the outgoing beam from the focused microscope condenser lens guides the initial alignment of the system. A variety of lenses are used to condition and expand the laser beam to fill the back aperture of the chosen objective lens. Final alignment and testing is performed with a front surface mirrored glass slide target. Laser power is adjusted to give a minimum size ablation spot (<1um). The ablation spot is centered with fine adjustments of the last kinematically mounted mirror to cross hairs fixed in the imaging window. Laser power for axotomy will be approximately 10X higher than needed for the minimum ablation spot on the target slide (this may vary with the target you use). Worms can be immobilized for laser axotomy and time-lapse imaging by mounting on agarose pads (or in microfluidic chambers4
). Agarose pads are easily made with 10% agarose in balanced saline melted in a microwave. A drop of molten agarose is placed on a glass slide and flattened with another glass slide into a pad approximately 200 um thick (a single layer of time tape on adjacent slides is used as a spacer). A "Sharpie" cap is used to cut out a uniformed diameter circular pad of 13mm. Anesthetic (1ul Muscimol 20mM) and Microspheres (Chris Fang-Yen personal communication) (1ul 2.65% Polystyrene 0.1 um in water) are added to the center of the pad followed by 3-5 worms oriented so they are lying on their left sides. A glass coverslip is applied and then Vaseline is used to seal the coverslip and prevent evaporation of the sample.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, laser axotomy, regeneration, growth cone, time lapse, C. elegans, neuroscience, Nd:Yag laser
Intracellular Recording, Sensory Field Mapping, and Culturing Identified Neurons in the Leech, Hirudo medicinalis
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Salahaddin, Iraq, SISSA, Italy.
The freshwater leech, Hirudo medicinalis
, is a versatile model organism that has been used to address scientific questions in the fields of neurophysiology, neuroethology, and developmental biology. The goal of this report is to consolidate experimental techniques from the leech system into a single article that will be of use to physiologists with expertise in other nervous system preparations, or to biology students with little or no electrophysiology experience. We demonstrate how to dissect the leech for recording intracellularly from identified neural circuits in the ganglion. Next we show how individual cells of known function can be removed from the ganglion to be cultured in a Petri dish, and how to record from those neurons in culture. Then we demonstrate how to prepare a patch of innervated skin to be used for mapping sensory or motor fields. These leech preparations are still widely used to address basic electrical properties of neural networks, behavior, synaptogenesis, and development. They are also an appropriate training module for neuroscience or physiology teaching laboratories.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, leech, Neurobiology, culture, neurons, electrophysiology, synapse, neurophysiology, neuroethology, developmental biology, ganglion, central nervous system (CNS)
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Automated Quantification of Synaptic Fluorescence in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Toledo .
Synapse strength refers to the amplitude of postsynaptic responses to presynaptic neurotransmitter release events, and has a major impact on overall neural circuit function. Synapse strength critically depends on the abundance of neurotransmitter receptors clustered at synaptic sites on the postsynaptic membrane. Receptor levels are established developmentally, and can be altered by receptor trafficking between surface-localized, subsynaptic, and intracellular pools, representing important mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation. Rigorous methods to quantify synaptically-localized neurotransmitter receptor abundance are essential to study synaptic development and plasticity. Fluorescence microscopy is an optimal approach because it preserves spatial information, distinguishing synaptic from non-synaptic pools, and discriminating among receptor populations localized to different types of synapses. The genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans
is particularly well suited for these studies due to the small size and relative simplicity of its nervous system, its transparency, and the availability of powerful genetic techniques, allowing examination of native synapses in intact animals.
Here we present a method for quantifying fluorescently-labeled synaptic neurotransmitter receptors in C. elegans
. Its key feature is the automated identification and analysis of individual synapses in three dimensions in multi-plane confocal microscope output files, tabulating position, volume, fluorescence intensity, and total fluorescence for each synapse. This approach has two principal advantages over manual analysis of z-plane projections of confocal data. First, because every plane of the confocal data set is included, no data are lost through z-plane projection, typically based on pixel intensity averages or maxima. Second, identification of synapses is automated, but can be inspected by the experimenter as the data analysis proceeds, allowing fast and accurate extraction of data from large numbers of synapses. Hundreds to thousands of synapses per sample can easily be obtained, producing large data sets to maximize statistical power. Considerations for preparing C. elegans
for analysis, and performing confocal imaging to minimize variability between animals within treatment groups are also discussed. Although developed to analyze C. elegans
postsynaptic receptors, this method is generally useful for any type of synaptically-localized protein, or indeed, any fluorescence signal that is localized to discrete clusters, puncta, or organelles.
The procedure is performed in three steps: 1) preparation of samples, 2) confocal imaging, and 3) image analysis. Steps 1 and 2 are specific to C. elegans
, while step 3 is generally applicable to any punctate fluorescence signal in confocal micrographs.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Developmental Biology, Neurotransmitter receptors, quantification, confocal microscopy, immunostaining, fluorescence, Volocity, UNC-49 GABA receptors, C. elegans
Setting Up a Simple Light Sheet Microscope for In Toto Imaging of C. elegans Development
Institutions: UMR7288 CNRS, Aix-Marseille Université.
Fast and low phototoxic imaging techniques are pre-requisite to study the development of organisms in toto
. Light sheet based microscopy reduces photo-bleaching and phototoxic effects compared to confocal microscopy, while providing 3D images with subcellular resolution. Here we present the setup of a light sheet based microscope, which is composed of an upright microscope and a small set of opto-mechanical elements for the generation of the light sheet. The protocol describes how to build, align the microscope and characterize the light sheet. In addition, it details how to implement the method for in toto
imaging of C. elegans
embryos using a simple observation chamber. The method allows the capture of 3D two-colors time-lapse movies over few hours of development. This should ease the tracking of cell shape, cell divisions and tagged proteins over long periods of time.
Developmental Biology, Issue 87, Selective Plane Illumination Microscopy, Light Sheet, Caenorhabditis elegans Embryo Development, in vivo imaging
Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans
embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans
is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo
due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
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
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
Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans
is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans
is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo
. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo
. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans
provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo
in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans
. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans
genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
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
Osmotic Avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: Synaptic Function of Two Genes, Orthologues of Human NRXN1 and NLGN1, as Candidates for Autism
Institutions: Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Córdoba, Instituto Maimónides de Investigación Biomédica de Córdoba (IMIBIC).
Neurexins and neuroligins are cell adhesion molecules present in excitatory and inhibitory synapses, and they are required for correct neuron network function1
. These proteins are found at the presynaptic and postsynaptic membranes 2
. Studies in mice indicate that neurexins and neurologins have an essential role in synaptic transmission 1
. Recent reports have shown that altered neuronal connections during the development of the human nervous system could constitute the basis of the etiology of numerous cases of autism spectrum disorders 3
could be used as an experimental tool to facilitate the study of the functioning of synaptic components, because of its simplicity for laboratory experimentation, and given that its nervous system and synaptic wiring has been fully characterized. In C
. elegans nrx-1
genes are orthologous to human NRXN1
genes which encode alpha-neurexin-1 and neuroligin-1 proteins, respectively. In humans and nematodes, the organization of neurexins and neuroligins is similar in respect to functional domains.
The head of the nematode contains the amphid, a sensory organ of the nematode, which mediates responses to different stimuli, including osmotic strength. The amphid is made of 12 sensory bipolar neurons with ciliated dendrites and one presynaptic terminal axon 4
. Two of these neurons, named ASHR and ASHL are particularly important in osmotic sensory function, detecting water-soluble repellents with high osmotic strength 5
. The dendrites of these two neurons lengthen to the tip of the mouth and the axons extend to the nerve ring, where they make synaptic connections with other neurons determining the behavioral response 6
To evaluate the implications of neurexin and neuroligin in high osmotic strength avoidance, we show the different response of C. elegans mutants defective in nrx-1
genes, using a method based on a 4M fructose ring 7
. The behavioral phenotypes were confirmed using specific RNAi clones 8
. In C. elegans
, the dsRNA required to trigger RNAi can be administered by feeding 9
. The delivery of dsRNA through food induces the RNAi interference of the gene of interest thus allowing the identification of genetic components and network pathways.
Neuroscience, Microbiology, Issue 34, synapse, osmotic sensitivity, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurexin, neuroligin, autism, neuroscience
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
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
Primary Neuronal Cultures from the Brains of Late Stage Drosophila Pupae
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this video, we demonstrate the preparation of primary neuronal cultures from the brains of late stage Drosophila pupae. The procedure begins with the removal of brains from animals at 70-78 hrs after puparium formation. The isolated brains are shown after brief incubation in papain followed by several washes in serum-free growth medium. The process of mechanical dissociation of each brain in a 5 ul drop of media on a coverslip is illustrated. The axons and dendrites of the post-mitotic neurons are sheered off near the soma during dissociation but the neurons begin to regenerate processes within a few hours of plating. Images show live cultures at 2 days. Neurons continue to elaborate processes during the first week in culture. Specific neuronal populations can be identified in culture using GAL4 lines to drive tissue specific expression of fluorescent markers such as GFP or RFP. Whole cell recordings have demonstrated the cultured neurons form functional, spontaneously active cholinergic and GABAergic synapses. A short video segment illustrates calcium dynamics in the cultured neurons using Fura-2 as a calcium indicator dye to monitor spontaneous calcium transients and nicotine evoked calcium responses in a dish of cultured neurons. These pupal brain cultures are a useful model system in which genetic and pharmacological tools can be used to identify intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence formation and function of central synapses.
Neuroscience, issue 4, neuronal culture, insects, Drosophila, calcium imaging, Fura-2, primary neurons, defined medium, pupae
Dissecting and Recording from The C. Elegans Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago.
Neurotransmission is the process by which neurons transfer information via chemical signals to their post-synaptic targets, on a rapid time scale. This complex process requires the coordinated activity of many pre- and post-synaptic proteins to ensure appropriate synaptic connectivity, conduction of electrical signals, targeting and priming of secretory vesicles, calcium sensing, vesicle fusion, localization and function of postsynaptic receptors and finally, recycling mechanisms. As neuroscientists it is our goal to elucidate which proteins function in each of these steps and understand their mechanisms of action. Electrophysiological recordings from synapses provide a quantifiable read out of the underlying electrical events that occur during synaptic transmission. By combining this technique with the powerful array of molecular and genetic tools available to manipulate synaptic proteins in C. elegans
, we can analyze the resulting functional changes in synaptic transmission.
The C. elegans
NMJs formed between motor neurons and body wall muscles control locomotion, therefore, mutants with uncoordinated locomotory phenotypes (known as unc
s) often perturb synaptic transmission at these synapses 1
. Since unc
mutants are maintained on a rich supply of a bacterial food source, they remain viable as long as they retain some pharyngeal pumping ability to ingest food. This, together with the fact that C. elegans
exist as hermaphrodites, allows them to pass on mutant progeny without the need for elaborate mating behaviors. These attributes, coupled with our recent ability to record from the worms NMJs 2,3,7
make this an excellent model organism in which to address precisely how unc
mutants impact neurotransmission.
The dissection method involves immobilizing adult worms using a cyanoacrylic glue in order to make an incision in the worm cuticle exposing the NMJs. Since C. elegans
adults are only 1 mm in length the dissection is performed with the use of a dissecting microscope and requires excellent hand-eye coordination. NMJ recordings are made by whole-cell voltage clamping individual body wall muscle cells and neurotransmitter release can be evoked using a variety of stimulation protocols including electrical stimulation, light-activated channel-rhodopsin-mediated depolarization 4
and hyperosmotic saline, all of which will be briefly described.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Caenorhabditis elegans, electrophysiology, neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission