The spinal motoneuron has long been a good model system for studying neural function because it is a neuron of the central nervous system with the unique properties of (1) having readily identifiable targets (the muscle fibers) and therefore having a very well-known function (to control muscle contraction); (2) being the convergent target of many spinal and descending networks, hence the name of "final common pathway"; and (3) having a large soma which makes it possible to penetrate them with sharp intracellular electrodes. Furthermore, when studied in vivo, it is possible to record simultaneously the electrical activity of the motoneurons and the force developed by their muscle targets. Performing intracellular recordings of motoneurons in vivo therefore put the experimentalist in the unique position of being able to study, at the same time, all the compartments of the "motor unit" (the name given to the motoneuron, its axon, and the muscle fibers it innervates1): the inputs impinging on the motoneuron, the electrophysiological properties of the motoneuron, and the impact of these properties on the physiological function of the motoneurons, i.e. the force produced by its motor unit. However, this approach is very challenging because the preparation cannot be paralyzed and thus the mechanical stability for the intracellular recording is reduced. Thus, this kind of experiments has only been achieved in cats and in rats. However, the study of spinal motor systems could make a formidable leap if it was possible to perform similar experiments in normal and genetically modified mice.
For technical reasons, the study of the spinal networks in mice has mostly been limited to neonatal in vitro preparations, where the motoneurons and the spinal networks are immature, the motoneurons are separated from their targets, and when studied in slices, the motoneurons are separated from most of their inputs. Until recently, only a few groups had managed to perform intracellular recordings of motoneurons in vivo2-4 , including our team who published a new preparation which allowed us to obtain very stable recordings of motoneurons in vivo in adult mice5,6. However, these recordings were obtained in paralyzed animals, i.e. without the possibility to record the force output of these motoneurons. Here we present an extension of this original preparation in which we were able to obtain simultaneous recordings of the electrophysiological properties of the motoneurons and of the force developed by their motor unit. This is an important achievement, as it allows us to identify the different types of motoneurons based on their force profile, and thereby revealing their function. Coupled with genetic models disturbing spinal segmental circuitry7-9, or reproducting human disease10,11, we expect this technique to be an essential tool for the study of spinal motor system.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Assaying the Ability of Diffusible Signaling Molecules to Reorient Embryonic Spinal Commissural Axons
Institutions: University of Southern California, University of Southern California.
Dorsal commissural axons in the vertebrate spinal cord1
have been an invaluable model system in which to identify axon guidance signals. Here, we describe an in vitro
assay, "the reorientation assay", that has been used extensively to study the effect of extrinsic and intrinsic signals on the orientation of commissural axons2
. This assay was developed by numerous people in the laboratories of Jane Dodd, Thomas Jessell and Andrew Lumsden (see acknowledgements for more details) and versions of this assay were used to demonstrate the reorientation activities of key axon guidance molecules, including the BMP chemorepellent in the roof plate3,4
and the chemoattractive activities of Netrin15
and Sonic Hedgehog (Shh)6
in the floor plate in the spinal cord.
Explants comprising 2-3 segments of the dorsal two-thirds of spinal cord are dissected from embryonic day (E) 11 rats and cultured in three dimensional collagen gels7
. E11 dorsal spinal explants contain newly born commissural neurons, which can be identified by their axonal expression of the glycoprotein, Tag18
. Over the course of 30-40 hours in culture, the commissural axon trajectory is recapitulated in these dorsal explants with a time course similar to that seen in vivo
. This axonal trajectory can be challenged by placing either test tissues or a COS cell aggregate expressing a candidate signaling molecule in contact with one of the lateral edges of the dorsal explant. Commissural axons extending in the vicinity of the appended tissue will grow under the influence of both the endogenous roof plate and signals from the ectopic lateral tissue. The degree to which commissural axons are reoriented under these circumstances can be quantified. Using this assay, it is possible both to examine the sufficiency of a particular signal to reorient commissural axons3,4
as well the necessity for this signal to direct the commissural trajectory9
Neuroscience, Issue 37, commissural axons, spinal cord, rat, explant, collagen, COS cells, bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs)
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
Dissection and Lateral Mounting of Zebrafish Embryos: Analysis of Spinal Cord Development
Institutions: Skidmore College.
The zebrafish spinal cord is an effective investigative model for nervous system research for several reasons. First, genetic, transgenic and gene knockdown approaches can be utilized to examine the molecular mechanisms underlying nervous system development. Second, large clutches of developmentally synchronized embryos provide large experimental sample sizes. Third, the optical clarity of the zebrafish embryo permits researchers to visualize progenitor, glial, and neuronal populations. Although zebrafish embryos are transparent, specimen thickness can impede effective microscopic visualization. One reason for this is the tandem development of the spinal cord and overlying somite tissue. Another reason is the large yolk ball, which is still present during periods of early neurogenesis. In this article, we demonstrate microdissection and removal of the yolk in fixed embryos, which allows microscopic visualization while preserving surrounding somite tissue. We also demonstrate semipermanent mounting of zebrafish embryos. This permits observation of neurodevelopment in the dorso-ventral and anterior-posterior axes, as it preserves the three-dimensionality of the tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Spinal Cord, Zebrafish, Microscopy, Confocal, Embryonic Development, Nervous System, dissection and mounting, mounting embryos, dissecting embryos
Culture of Isolated Floor Plate Tissue and Production of Conditioned Medium to Assess Functional Properties of Floor Plate-released Signals
Institutions: University of Lyon 1.
During development, progenitors and post-mitotic neurons receive signals from adjacent territories that regulate their fate. The floor-plate is a group of glial cells lining the ependymal canal at ventral position. The floor-plate expresses key morphogens contributing to the patterning of cell lineages in the spinal cord. At later developmental stages, the floor-plate regulates the navigation of axons in the spinal cord, acting as a barrier to prevent the crossing of ipsilateral axons and controlling midline crossing by commissural axons1
. These functions are achieved through the secretion of various guidance cues. Some of these cues act as attractants and repellents for the growing axons while others regulate guidance receptors and downstream signaling to modulate the sensitivity of the axons to the local guidance cues2,3
. Here we describe a method that allows investigating the properties of floor-plate derived signals in a variety of developmental contexts, based on the production of Floor-Plate conditioned medium (FPcm
. We then exemplify the use of this FPcm
in the context of axon guidance. First, the spinal cord is isolated from mouse embryo at E12.5 and the floor-plate is dissected out and cultivated in a plasma-thrombin matrix (Figure 1
). Second two days later, commissural tissue are dissected out from E12.5 embryos, triturated and exposed to the FPcm
. Third, the tissue are processed for Western blot analysis of commissural markers.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Growth Cones, Axons, Embryonic Development, Floor plate, conditioned medium, axon guidance, commissural tissue, biochemistry, receptor levels
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
Analysis of Oxidative Stress in Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Torino, Vesalius Research Center, VIB.
High levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) may cause a change of cellular redox state towards oxidative stress condition. This situation causes oxidation of molecules (lipid, DNA, protein) and leads to cell death. Oxidative stress also impacts the progression of several pathological conditions such as diabetes, retinopathies, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Thus, it is important to define tools to investigate oxidative stress conditions not only at the level of single cells but also in the context of whole organisms. Here, we consider the zebrafish embryo as a useful in vivo
system to perform such studies and present a protocol to measure in vivo
oxidative stress. Taking advantage of fluorescent ROS probes and zebrafish transgenic fluorescent lines, we develop two different methods to measure oxidative stress in vivo
: i) a “whole embryo ROS-detection method” for qualitative measurement of oxidative stress and ii) a “single-cell ROS detection method” for quantitative measurements of oxidative stress. Herein, we demonstrate the efficacy of these procedures by increasing oxidative stress in tissues by oxidant agents and physiological or genetic methods. This protocol is amenable for forward genetic screens and it will help address cause-effect relationships of ROS in animal models of oxidative stress-related pathologies such as neurological disorders and cancer.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Danio rerio, zebrafish embryos, endothelial cells, redox state analysis, oxidative stress detection, in vivo ROS measurements, FACS (fluorescence activated cell sorter), molecular probes
Sonication-facilitated Immunofluorescence Staining of Late-stage Embryonic and Larval Drosophila Tissues In Situ
Institutions: College of William & Mary.
Studies performed in Drosophila melanogaster
embryos and larvae provide crucial insight into developmental processes such as cell fate specification and organogenesis. Immunostaining allows for the visualization of developing tissues and organs. However, a protective cuticle that forms at the end of embryogenesis prevents permeation of antibodies into late-stage embryos and larvae. While dissection prior to immunostaining is regularly used to analyze Drosophila
larval tissues, it proves inefficient for some analyses because small tissues may be difficult to locate and isolate. Sonication provides an alternative to dissection in larval Drosophila
immunostaining protocols. It allows for quick, simultaneous processing of large numbers of late-stage embryos and larvae and maintains in situ
morphology. After fixation in formaldehyde, a sample is sonicated. Sample is then subjected to immunostaining with antigen-specific primary antibodies and fluorescently labeled secondary antibodies to visualize target cell types and specific proteins via fluorescence microscopy. During the process of sonication, proper placement of a sonicating probe above the sample, as well as the duration and intensity of sonication, is critical. Additonal minor modifications to standard immunostaining protocols may be required for high quality stains. For antibodies with low signal to noise ratio, longer incubation times are typically necessary. As a proof of concept for this sonication-facilitated protocol, we show immunostains of three tissue types (testes, ovaries, and neural tissues) at a range of developmental stages.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90,
Drosophila, embryo, larvae, sonication, fixation, immunostain, immunofluorescence, organogenesis, development
Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
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)
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
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
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
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6
. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7
. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant.
Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10
. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12
. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10
Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
Whole Mount Preparation of the Adult Drosophila Ventral Nerve Cord for Giant Fiber Dye Injection
Institutions: Florida Atlantic University.
To analyze the axonal and dendritic morphology of neurons, it is essential to obtain accurate labeling of neuronal structures. Preparing well labeled samples with little to no tissue damage enables us to analyze cell morphology and to compare individual samples to each other, hence allowing the identification of mutant anomalies.
In the demonstrated dissection method the nervous system remains mostly inside the adult fly. Through a dorsal incision, the abdomen and thorax are opened and most of the internal organs are removed. Only the dorsal side of the ventral nerve cord (VNC) and the cervical connective
(CvC) containing the big axons of the giant fibers (GFs)1
are exposed, while the brain containing the GF cell body and dendrites remains2
intact head. In this preparation most nerves of the VNC should remain attached to their muscles.
Following the dissection, the intracellular filling of the giant fiber (GF) with a fluorescent dye is demonstrated. In the CvC the GF axons are located at the dorsal surface and thus can be easily visualized under a microscope with differential interference contrast (DIC) optics. This allows the injection of the GF axons with dye at this site to label the entire GF including the axons and their terminals in the VNC. This method results in reliable and strong staining of the GFs allowing the neurons to be imaged immediately after filling with an epifluorescent microscope. Alternatively, the fluorescent signal can be enhanced using standard immunohistochemistry procedures3
suitable for high resolution confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, Drosophila, in vivo dissection, giant fiber, ventral nerve cord, dye fill, immunohistochemistry
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
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
Retrograde Loading of Nerves, Tracts, and Spinal Roots with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.
Retrograde labeling of neurons is a standard anatomical method1,2
that has also been used to load calcium and voltage-sensitive dyes into neurons3-6
. Generally, the dyes are applied as solid crystals or by local pressure injection using glass pipettes. However, this can result in dilution of the dye and reduced labeling intensity, particularly when several hours are required for dye diffusion. Here we demonstrate a simple and low-cost technique for introducing fluorescent and ion-sensitive dyes into neurons using a polyethylene suction pipette filled with the dye solution. This method offers a reliable way for maintaining a high concentration of the dye in contact with axons throughout the loading procedure.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Retrograde labeling, Fluorescent dyes, Spinal cord, Nerves, Spinal tracts, Optical imaging, Electrophysiology, Calcium-sensitive dyes
Genetic Study of Axon Regeneration with Cultured Adult Dorsal Root Ganglion Neurons
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
It is well known that mature neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) cannot regenerate their axons after injuries due to diminished intrinsic ability to support axon growth and a hostile environment in the mature CNS1,2
. In contrast, mature neurons in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) regenerate readily after injuries3
. Adult dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons are well known to regenerate robustly after peripheral nerve injuries. Each DRG neuron grows one axon from the cell soma, which branches into two axonal branches: a peripheral branch innervating peripheral targets and a central branch extending into the spinal cord. Injury of the DRG peripheral axons results in substantial axon regeneration, whereas central axons in the spinal cord regenerate poorly after the injury. However, if the peripheral axonal injury occurs prior to the spinal cord injury (a process called the conditioning lesion), regeneration of central axons is greatly improved4
. Moreover, the central axons of DRG neurons share the same hostile environment as descending corticospinal axons in the spinal cord. Together, it is hypothesized that the molecular mechanisms controlling axon regeneration of adult DRG neurons can be harnessed to enhance CNS axon regeneration. As a result, adult DRG neurons are now widely used as a model system to study regenerative axon growth5-7
Here we describe a method of adult DRG neuron culture that can be used for genetic study of axon regeneration in vitro
. In this model adult DRG neurons are genetically manipulated via electroporation-mediated gene transfection6,8
. By transfecting neurons with DNA plasmid or si/shRNA, this approach enables both gain- and loss-of-function experiments to investigate the role of any gene-of-interest in axon growth from adult DRG neurons. When neurons are transfected with si/shRNA, the targeted endogenous protein is usually depleted after 3-4 days in culture, during which time robust axon growth has already occurred, making the loss-of-function studies less effective. To solve this problem, the method described here includes a re-suspension and re-plating step after transfection, which allows axons to re-grow from neurons in the absence of the targeted protein. Finally, we provide an example of using this in vitro
model to study the role of an axon regeneration-associated gene, c-Jun, in mediating axon growth from adult DRG neurons9
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Physiology, Developmental Biology, cell culture, axon regeneration, axon growth, dorsal root ganglion, spinal cord injury
Analyzing Murine Schwann Cell Development Along Growing Axons
Institutions: University of Freiburg , University of Heidelberg, University of Freiburg .
The development of peripheral nerves is an intriguing process. Neurons send out axons to innervate specific targets, which in humans are often more than 100 cm away from the soma of the neuron. Neuronal survival during development depends on target-derived growth factors but also on the support of Schwann cells (SCs). To this end SC ensheath axons from the region of the neuronal soma (or the transition from central to peripheral nervous system) to the synapse or neuromuscular junction. Schwann cells are derivatives of the neural crest and migrate as precursors along emerging axons until the entire axon is covered with SCs. This shows the importance of SC migration for the development of the peripheral nervous system and underlines the necessity to investigate this process. In order to analyze SC development, a setup is needed which next to the SCs also includes their physiological substrate for migration, the axon. Due to intrauterine development in vivo
time-lapse imaging, however, is not feasible in placental vertebrates like mouse (mus musculus
). To circumvent this, we adapted the superior cervical ganglion (SCG) explant technique. Upon treatment with nerve growth factor (NGF) SCG explants extend axons, followed by SC precursors migrating along the axons from the ganglion to the periphery. The beauty of this system is that the SC are derived from a pool of endogenous SC and that they migrate along their own physiological axons which are growing at the same time. This system is especially intriguing, because the SC development along axons can be analyzed by time-lapse imaging, opening further possibilities to gain insights into SC migration.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Developmental Biology, Schwann cell, migration, time-lapse, SCG, neurons, axons, mouse
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)