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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Correlating Behavioral Responses to fMRI Signals from Human Prefrontal Cortex: Examining Cognitive Processes Using Task Analysis
Institutions: Centre for Vision Research, York University, Centre for Vision Research, York University.
The aim of this methods paper is to describe how to implement a neuroimaging technique to examine complementary brain processes engaged by two similar tasks. Participants' behavior during task performance in an fMRI scanner can then be correlated to the brain activity using the blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal. We measure behavior to be able to sort correct trials, where the subject performed the task correctly and then be able to examine the brain signals related to correct performance. Conversely, if subjects do not perform the task correctly, and these trials are included in the same analysis with the correct trials we would introduce trials that were not only for correct performance. Thus, in many cases these errors can be used themselves to then correlate brain activity to them. We describe two complementary tasks that are used in our lab to examine the brain during suppression of an automatic responses: the stroop1
and anti-saccade tasks. The emotional stroop paradigm instructs participants to either report the superimposed emotional 'word' across the affective faces or the facial 'expressions' of the face stimuli1,2
. When the word and the facial expression refer to different emotions, a conflict between what must be said and what is automatically read occurs. The participant has to resolve the conflict between two simultaneously competing processes of word reading and facial expression. Our urge to read out a word leads to strong 'stimulus-response (SR)' associations; hence inhibiting these strong SR's is difficult and participants are prone to making errors. Overcoming this conflict and directing attention away from the face or the word requires the subject to inhibit bottom up processes which typically directs attention to the more salient stimulus. Similarly, in the anti-saccade task3,4,5,6
, where an instruction cue is used to direct only attention to a peripheral stimulus location but then the eye movement is made to the mirror opposite position. Yet again we measure behavior by recording the eye movements of participants which allows for the sorting of the behavioral responses into correct and error trials7
which then can be correlated to brain activity. Neuroimaging now allows researchers to measure different behaviors of correct and error trials that are indicative of different cognitive processes and pinpoint the different neural networks involved.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, fMRI, eyetracking, BOLD, attention, inhibition, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI
Dopamine Release at Individual Presynaptic Terminals Visualized with FFNs
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University, eMolecules, Inc., University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, New York Psychiatric Institute.
The nervous system transmits signals between neurons via neurotransmitter release during synaptic vesicle fusion. To observe neurotransmitter uptake and release from individual presynaptic terminals directly, we designed fluorescent false neurotransmitters as substrates for the synaptic vesicle monoamine transporter. Using these probes to image dopamine release in the striatum, we made several observations pertinent to synaptic plasticity. We found that the fraction of synaptic vesicles releasing neurotransmitter per stimulus was dependent on the stimulus frequency. A kinetically distinct "reserve" synaptic vesicle population was not observed under these experimental conditions. A frequency-dependent heterogeneity of presynaptic terminals was revealed that was dependent in part on D2 dopamine receptors, indicating a mechanism for frequency-dependent coding of presynaptic selection.
Hui Zhang and Niko G. Gubernator contributed equally to this work.
Neuroscience, Issue 30, striatal slice, dopamine, synapse, synaptic vesicles, amphetamine, optical imaging, fluorescence, release
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
Super-resolution Imaging of Neuronal Dense-core Vesicles
Institutions: Lewis & Clark College, Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Health & Science University, Lewis & Clark College.
Detection of fluorescence provides the foundation for many widely utilized and rapidly advancing microscopy techniques employed in modern biological and medical applications. Strengths of fluorescence include its sensitivity, specificity, and compatibility with live imaging. Unfortunately, conventional forms of fluorescence microscopy suffer from one major weakness, diffraction-limited resolution in the imaging plane, which hampers studies of structures with dimensions smaller than ~250 nm. Recently, this limitation has been overcome with the introduction of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques, such as photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM). Unlike its conventional counterparts, PALM can produce images with a lateral resolution of tens of nanometers. It is thus now possible to use fluorescence, with its myriad strengths, to elucidate a spectrum of previously inaccessible attributes of cellular structure and organization.
Unfortunately, PALM is not trivial to implement, and successful strategies often must be tailored to the type of system under study. In this article, we show how to implement single-color PALM studies of vesicular structures in fixed, cultured neurons. PALM is ideally suited to the study of vesicles, which have dimensions that typically range from ~50-250 nm. Key steps in our approach include labeling neurons with photoconvertible (green to red) chimeras of vesicle cargo, collecting sparsely sampled raw images with a super-resolution microscopy system, and processing the raw images to produce a high-resolution PALM image. We also demonstrate the efficacy of our approach by presenting exceptionally well-resolved images of dense-core vesicles (DCVs) in cultured hippocampal neurons, which refute the hypothesis that extrasynaptic trafficking of DCVs is mediated largely by DCV clusters.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, photoactivated localization microscopy, Dendra2, dense-core vesicle, synapse, hippocampal neuron, cluster
Vibrodissociation of Neurons from Rodent Brain Slices to Study Synaptic Transmission and Image Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ewha Womans University, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mechanical dissociation of neurons from the central nervous system has the advantage that presynaptic boutons remain attached to the isolated neuron of interest. This allows for examination of synaptic transmission under conditions where the extracellular and postsynaptic intracellular environments can be well controlled. A vibration-based technique without the use of proteases, known as vibrodissociation, is the most popular technique for mechanical isolation. A micropipette, with the tip fire-polished to the shape of a small ball, is placed into a brain slice made from a P1-P21 rodent. The micropipette is vibrated parallel to the slice surface and lowered through the slice thickness resulting in the liberation of isolated neurons. The isolated neurons are ready for study within a few minutes of vibrodissociation. This technique has advantages over the use of primary neuronal cultures, brain slices and enzymatically isolated neurons including: rapid production of viable, relatively mature neurons suitable for electrophysiological and imaging studies; superior control of the extracellular environment free from the influence of neighboring cells; suitability for well-controlled pharmacological experiments using rapid drug application and total cell superfusion; and improved space-clamp in whole-cell recordings relative to neurons in slice or cell culture preparations. This preparation can be used to examine synaptic physiology, pharmacology, modulation and plasticity. Real-time imaging of both pre- and postsynaptic elements in the living cells and boutons is also possible using vibrodissociated neurons. Characterization of the molecular constituents of pre- and postsynaptic elements can also be achieved with immunological and imaging-based approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, neuronal dissociation, synaptic transmission, GABA, calcium imaging, electrophysiology, hippocampus, striatum
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
Preparation of Synaptic Plasma Membrane and Postsynaptic Density Proteins Using a Discontinuous Sucrose Gradient
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Neuronal subcellular fractionation techniques allow the quantification of proteins that are trafficked to and from the synapse. As originally described in the late 1960’s, proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane can be isolated by ultracentrifugation on a sucrose density gradient. Once synaptic membranes are isolated, the macromolecular complex known as the post-synaptic density can be subsequently isolated due to its detergent insolubility. The techniques used to isolate synaptic plasma membranes and post-synaptic density proteins remain essentially the same after 40 years, and are widely used in current neuroscience research. This article details the fractionation of proteins associated with the synaptic plasma membrane and post-synaptic density using a discontinuous sucrose gradient. Resulting protein preparations are suitable for western blotting or 2D DIGE analysis.
Neurobiology, Issue 91, brain, synapse, western blot, ultracentrifugation, SPM, PSD
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
Presynaptically Silent Synapses Studied with Light Microscopy
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
Synaptic plasticity likely underlies the nervous system's ability to learn and remember and may also represent an adaptability that prevents otherwise damaging insults from becoming neurotoxic. We have been studying a form of presynaptic plasticity that is interesting in part because it is expressed as a digital switching on and off of a presynaptic terminal s ability to release vesicles containing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Here we demonstrate a protocol for visualizing the activity status of presynaptic terminals in dissociated cell cultures prepared from the rodent hippocampus. The method relies on detecting active synapses using staining with a fixable form of the styryl dye FM1-43, commonly used to label synaptic vesicles. This staining profile is compared with immunostaining of the same terminals with an antibody directed against the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT-1), a stain designed to label all glutamate synapses regardless of activation status. We find that depolarizing stimuli induce presynaptic silencing. The population of synapses that is silent under baseline conditions can be activated by prolonged electrical silencing or by activation of cAMP signaling pathways.
Neurobiology, Issue 35, glutamate, synaptic plasticity, cAMP, excitotoxicity, homeostasis, FM1-43, presynaptic plasticity
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
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
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
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
In vivo Neuronal Calcium Imaging in C. elegans
Institutions: Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University Photonics Center.
The nematode worm C. elegans
is an ideal model organism for relatively simple, low cost neuronal imaging in vivo
. Its small transparent body and simple, well-characterized nervous system allows identification and fluorescence imaging of any neuron within the intact animal. Simple immobilization techniques with minimal impact on the animal's physiology allow extended time-lapse imaging. The development of genetically-encoded calcium sensitive fluorophores such as cameleon 1
and GCaMP 2
allow in vivo
imaging of neuronal calcium relating both cell physiology and neuronal activity. Numerous transgenic strains expressing these fluorophores in specific neurons are readily available or can be constructed using well-established techniques. Here, we describe detailed procedures for measuring calcium dynamics within a single neuron in vivo
using both GCaMP and cameleon. We discuss advantages and disadvantages of both as well as various methods of sample preparation (animal immobilization) and image analysis. Finally, we present results from two experiments: 1) Using GCaMP to measure the sensory response of a specific neuron to an external electrical field and 2) Using cameleon to measure the physiological calcium response of a neuron to traumatic laser damage. Calcium imaging techniques such as these are used extensively in C. elegans
and have been extended to measurements in freely moving animals, multiple neurons simultaneously and comparison across genetic backgrounds. C. elegans
presents a robust and flexible system for in vivo
neuronal imaging with advantages over other model systems in technical simplicity and cost.
Developmental Biology, Issue 74, Physiology, Biophysics, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Developmental Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, calcium imaging, genetically encoded calcium indicators, cameleon, GCaMP, neuronal activity, time-lapse imaging, laser ablation, optical neurophysiology, neurophysiology, neurons, animal model
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
Simple Microfluidic Devices for in vivo Imaging of C. elegans, Drosophila and Zebrafish
Institutions: NCBS-TIFR, TIFR.
Micro fabricated fluidic devices provide an accessible micro-environment for in vivo
studies on small organisms. Simple fabrication processes are available for microfluidic devices using soft lithography techniques 1-3
. Microfluidic devices have been used for sub-cellular imaging 4,5
, in vivo
laser microsurgery 2,6
and cellular imaging 4,7
. In vivo
imaging requires immobilization of organisms. This has been achieved using suction 5,8
, tapered channels 6,7,9
, deformable membranes 2-4,10
, suction with additional cooling 5
, anesthetic gas 11
, temperature sensitive gels 12
, cyanoacrylate glue 13
and anesthetics such as levamisole 14,15
. Commonly used anesthetics influence synaptic transmission 16,17
and are known to have detrimental effects on sub-cellular neuronal transport 4
. In this study we demonstrate a membrane based poly-dimethyl-siloxane (PDMS) device that allows anesthetic free immobilization of intact genetic model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans
larvae and zebrafish larvae. These model organisms are suitable for in vivo
studies in microfluidic devices because of their small diameters and optically transparent or translucent bodies. Body diameters range from ~10 μm to ~800 μm for early larval stages of C. elegans
and zebrafish larvae and require microfluidic devices of different sizes to achieve complete immobilization for high resolution time-lapse imaging. These organisms are immobilized using pressure applied by compressed nitrogen gas through a liquid column and imaged using an inverted microscope. Animals released from the trap return to normal locomotion within 10 min.
We demonstrate four applications of time-lapse imaging in C. elegans
namely, imaging mitochondrial transport in neurons, pre-synaptic vesicle transport in a transport-defective mutant, glutamate receptor transport and Q neuroblast cell division. Data obtained from such movies show that microfluidic immobilization is a useful and accurate means of acquiring in vivo
data of cellular and sub-cellular events when compared to anesthetized animals (Figure 1J
and 3C-F 4
Device dimensions were altered to allow time-lapse imaging of different stages of C. elegans
, first instar Drosophila
larvae and zebrafish larvae. Transport of vesicles marked with synaptotagmin tagged with GFP (syt.eGFP) in sensory neurons shows directed motion of synaptic vesicle markers expressed in cholinergic sensory neurons in intact first instar Drosophila
larvae. A similar device has been used to carry out time-lapse imaging of heartbeat in ~30 hr post fertilization (hpf) zebrafish larvae. These data show that the simple devices we have developed can be applied to a variety of model systems to study several cell biological and developmental phenomena in vivo
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience, Microfluidics, C. elegans, Drosophila larvae, zebrafish larvae, anesthetic, pre-synaptic vesicle transport, dendritic transport of glutamate receptors, mitochondrial transport, synaptotagmin transport, heartbeat
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
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
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
Propagation of Human Embryonic Stem (ES) Cells
Institutions: MGH - Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, ES, embryonic stem cells, tissue culture
Loading Drosophila Nerve Terminals with Calcium Indicators
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Calcium plays many roles in the nervous system but none more impressive than as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, and none more profound than as the messenger essential for the synaptic plasticity that supports learning and memory. To further elucidate the molecular underpinnings of Ca2+
-dependent synaptic mechanisms, a model system is required that is both genetically malleable and physiologically accessible. Drosophila melanogaster provides such a model. In this system, genetically-encoded fluorescent indicators are available to detect Ca2+
changes in nerve terminals. However, these indicators have limited sensitivity to Ca2+
and often show a non-linear response. Synthetic fluorescent indicators are better suited for measuring the rapid Ca2+
changes associated with nerve activity. Here we demonstrate a technique for loading dextran-conjugated synthetic Ca2+
indicators into live nerve terminals in Drosophila larvae. Particular emphasis is placed on those aspects of the protocol most critical to the technique's success, such as how to avoid static electricity discharges along the isolated nerves, maintaining the health of the preparation during extended loading periods, and ensuring axon survival by providing Ca2+
to promote sealing of severed axon endings. Low affinity dextran-conjugated Ca2+
-indicators, such as fluo-4 and rhod, are available which show a high signal-to-noise ratio while minimally disrupting presynaptic Ca2+
dynamics. Dextran-conjugation helps prevent Ca2+
indicators being sequestered into organelles such as mitochondria. The loading technique can be applied equally to larvae, embryos and adults.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Drosophila, neuron, imaging