Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
DiI-Labeling of DRG Neurons to Study Axonal Branching in a Whole Mount Preparation of Mouse Embryonic Spinal Cord
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Here we present a technique to label the trajectories of small groups of DRG neurons into the embryonic spinal cord by diffusive staining using the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)1
. The comparison of axonal pathways of wild-type with those of mouse lines in which genes are mutated allows testing for a functional role of candidate proteins in the control of axonal branching which is an essential mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system. Axonal branching enables an individual neuron to connect with multiple targets, thereby providing the physical basis for the parallel processing of information. Ramifications at intermediate target regions of axonal growth may be distinguished from terminal arborization. Furthermore, different modes of axonal branch formation may be classified depending on whether branching results from the activities of the growth cone (splitting or delayed branching) or from the budding of collaterals from the axon shaft in a process called interstitial branching2
The central projections of neurons from the DRG offer a useful experimental system to study both types of axonal branching: when their afferent axons reach the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) of the spinal cord between embryonic days 10 to 13 (E10 - E13) they display a stereotyped pattern of T- or Y-shaped bifurcation. The two resulting daughter axons then proceed in rostral or caudal directions, respectively, at the dorsolateral margin of the cord and only after a waiting period collaterals sprout from these stem axons to penetrate the gray matter (interstitial branching) and project to relay neurons in specific laminae of the spinal cord where they further arborize (terminal branching)3
. DiI tracings have revealed growth cones at the dorsal root entry zone of the spinal cord that appeared to be in the process of splitting suggesting that bifurcation is caused by splitting of the growth cone itself4
), however, other options have been discussed as well5
This video demonstrates first how to dissect the spinal cord of E12.5 mice leaving the DRG attached. Following fixation of the specimen tiny amounts of DiI are applied to DRG using glass needles pulled from capillary tubes. After an incubation step, the labeled spinal cord is mounted as an inverted open-book preparation to analyze individual axons using fluorescence microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, neurons, axonal branching, DRG, Spinal cord, DiI labeling, cGMP signaling
Homarus Americanus Stomatogastric Nervous System Dissection
With the goal of understanding how nervous systems produce activity and respond to the environment, neuroscientists turn to model systems that exhibit the activity of interest and are accessible and amenable to experimental methods. The stomatogastric nervous system (STNS) of the American lobster (Homarus americanus
; also know was the Atlantic or Maine lobster) has been established as a model system for studying rhythm generating networks and neuromodulation of networks. The STNS consists of 3 anterior ganglia (2 commissural ganglia and an oesophageal ganglion), containing modulatory neurons that project centrally to the stomatogastric ganglion (STG). The STG contains approximately 30 neurons that comprise two central pattern generating networks, the pyloric and gastric networks that underlie feeding behaviors in crustaceans1,2
. While it is possible to study this system in vivo3
, the STNS continues to produce its rhythmic activity when isolated in vitro
. Physical isolation of the STNS in a dish allows for easy access to the somata in the ganglia for intracellular electrophysiological recordings and to the nerves of the STNS for extracellular recordings. Isolating the STNS is a two-part process. The first part, dissecting the stomach from the animal, is described in an accompanying video article4
. In this video article, fine dissection techniques are used to isolate the STNS from the stomach. This procedure results in a nervous system preparation that is available for electrophysiological recordings.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, lobster, stomach, neural network, dissection, central pattern generator
Study Glial Cell Heterogeneity Influence on Axon Growth Using a New Coculture Method
Institutions: Cedars Sinai Medical Center, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical University, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, Fourth Military Medical Univeristy.
In the central nervous system of all mammals, severed axons after injury are unable to regenerate to their original targets and functional recovery is very poor 1
. The failure of axon regeneration is a combined result of several factors including the hostile glial cell environment, inhibitory myelin related molecules and decreased intrinsic neuron regenerative capacity 2
. Astrocytes are the most predominant glial cell type in central nervous system and play important role in axon functions under physiology and pathology conditions 3
. Contrast to the homologous oligodendrocytes, astrocytes are a heterogeneous cell population composed by different astrocyte subpopulations with diverse morphologies and gene expression 4
. The functional significance of this heterogeneity, such as their influences on axon growth, is largely unknown.
To study the glial cell, especially the function of astrocyte heterogeneity in neuron behavior, we established a new method by co-culturing high purified dorsal root ganglia neurons with glial cells obtained from the rat cortex. By this technique, we were able to directly compare neuron adhesion and axon growth on different astrocytes subpopulations under the same condition.
In this report, we give the detailed protocol of this method for astrocytes isolation and culture, dorsal root ganglia neurons isolation and purification, and the co-culture of DRG neurons with astrocytes. This method could also be extended to other brain regions to study cellular or regional specific interaction between neurons and glial cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, Dorsal root ganglia, glial cell, heterogeneity, co-culture, regeneration, axon growth
Live Imaging of Dorsal Root Axons after Rhizotomy
Institutions: Shriners Hospitals Pediatric Research Center and Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital, Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
The primary sensory axons injured by spinal root injuries fail to regenerate into the spinal cord, leading to chronic pain and permanent sensory loss. Regeneration of dorsal root (DR) axons into spinal cord is prevented at the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ), the interface between the CNS and PNS. Our understanding of the molecular and cellular events that prevent regeneration at DREZ is incomplete, in part because complex changes associated with nerve injury have been deduced from postmortem analyses. Dynamic cellular processes, such as axon regeneration, are best studied with techniques that capture real-time events with multiple observations of each living animal. Our ability to monitor neurons serially in vivo
has increased dramatically owing to revolutionary innovations in optics and mouse transgenics. Several lines of thy1-GFP transgenic mice, in which subsets of neurons are genetically labeled in distinct fluorescent colors, permit individual neurons to be imaged in vivo1
. These mice have been used extensively for in vivo
imaging of muscle2-4
, and have provided novel insights into physiological mechanisms that static analyses could not have resolved. Imaging studies of neurons in living spinal cord have only recently begun. Lichtman and his colleagues first demonstrated their feasibility by tracking injured dorsal column (DC) axons with wide-field microscopy8,9
. Multi-photon in vivo
imaging of deeply positioned DC axons, microglia and blood vessels has also been accomplished10
. Over the last few years, we have pioneered in applying in vivo
imaging to monitor regeneration of DR axons using wide-field microscopy and H line of thy1-YFP mice. These studies have led us to a novel hypothesis about why DR axons are prevented from regenerating within the spinal cord11
In H line of thy1-YFP mice, distinct YFP+ axons are superficially positioned, which allows several axons to be monitored simultaneously. We have learned that DR axons arriving at DREZ are better imaged in lumbar than in cervical spinal cord. In the present report we describe several strategies that we have found useful to assure successful long-term and repeated imaging of regenerating DR axons. These include methods that eliminate repeated intubation and respiratory interruption, minimize surgery-associated stress and scar formation, and acquire stable images at high resolution without phototoxicity.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, in vivo imaging, dorsal root injury, wide field fluorescence microscope, laminectomy, spinal cord, Green fluorescence protein, transgenic mice, dorsal root ganglion, spinal root injury
Use of pHluorin to Assess the Dynamics of Axon Guidance Receptors in Cell Culture and in the Chick Embryo
Institutions: University of Lyon.
axon guidance receptors play a crucial role in regulating axons sensitivity to both attractive and repulsive cues. Indeed, activation of the guidance receptors is the first step of the signaling mechanisms allowing axon tips, the growth cones, to respond to the ligands. As such, the modulation of their availability at the cell surface is one of the mechanisms that participate in setting the growth cone sensitivity. We describe here a method to precisely visualize the spatio-temporal cell surface dynamics of an axon guidance receptor both in vitro
and in vivo
in the developing chick spinal cord. We took advantage of the pH-dependent fluorescence property of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) variant to specifically detect the fraction of the axon guidance receptor that is addressed to the plasma membrane. We first describe the in vitro
validation of such pH-dependent constructs and we further detail their use in vivo
, in the chick spinal chord, to assess the spatio-temporal dynamics of the axon guidance receptor of interest.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Neurons, Axons, Cell Differentiation, Embryonic Development, Life Sciences (General), Axon guidance receptor, trafficking, pHluorin, in ovo electroporation, commissural neurons, Plexin,
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
Mouse Hindbrain Ex Vivo Culture to Study Facial Branchiomotor Neuron Migration
Institutions: University College London, Centre for Cancer Biology, South Australia.
Embryonic neurons are born in the ventricular zone of the brain, but subsequently migrate to new destinations to reach appropriate targets. Deciphering the molecular signals that cooperatively guide neuronal migration in the embryonic brain is therefore important to understand how the complex neural networks form which later support postnatal life. Facial branchiomotor (FBM) neurons in the mouse embryo hindbrain migrate from rhombomere (r) 4 caudally to form the paired facial nuclei in the r6-derived region of the hindbrain. Here we provide a detailed protocol for wholemount ex vivo
culture of mouse embryo hindbrains suitable to investigate the signaling pathways that regulate FBM migration. In this method, hindbrains of E11.5 mouse embryos are dissected and cultured in an open book preparation on cell culture inserts for 24 hr. During this time, FBM neurons migrate caudally towards r6 and can be exposed to function-blocking antibodies and small molecules in the culture media or heparin beads loaded with recombinant proteins to examine roles for signaling pathways implicated in guiding neuronal migration.
Medicine, Issue 85, Neuroscience, Neuronal migration, hindbrain, mouse, facial branchiomotor neuron, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
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
Analysis of Neural Crest Migration and Differentiation by Cross-species Transplantation
Institutions: Rice University .
Avian embryos provide a unique platform for studying many vertebrate developmental processes, due to the easy access of the embryos within the egg. Chimeric avian embryos, in which quail donor tissue is transplanted into a chick embryo in ovo
, combine the power of indelible genetic labeling of cell populations with the ease of manipulation presented by the avian embryo.
Quail-chick chimeras are a classical tool for tracing migratory neural crest cells (NCCs)1-3
. NCCs are a transient migratory population of cells in the embryo, which originate in the dorsal region of the developing neural tube4
. They undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition and subsequently migrate to other regions of the embryo, where they differentiate into various cell types including cartilage5-13
, neurons and glia21-32
. NCCs are multipotent, and their ultimate fate is influenced by 1) the region of the neural tube in which they originate along the rostro-caudal axis of the embryo11,33-37
, 2) signals from neighboring cells as they migrate38-44
, and 3) the microenvironment of their ultimate destination within the embryo45,46
. Tracing these cells from their point of origin at the neural tube, to their final position and fate within the embryo, provides important insight into the developmental processes that regulate patterning and organogenesis.
Transplantation of complementary regions of donor neural tube (homotopic grafting) or different regions of donor neural tube (heterotopic grafting) can reveal differences in pre-specification of NCCs along the rostro-caudal axis2,47
. This technique can be further adapted to transplant a unilateral compartment of the neural tube, such that one side is derived from donor tissue, and the contralateral side remains unperturbed in the host embryo, yielding an internal control within the same sample2,47
. It can also be adapted for transplantation of brain segments in later embryos, after HH10, when the anterior neural tube has closed47
Here we report techniques for generating quail-chick chimeras via neural tube transplantation, which allow for tracing of migratory NCCs derived from a discrete segment of the neural tube. Species-specific labeling of the donor-derived cells with the quail-specific QCPN antibody48-56
allows the researcher to distinguish donor and host cells at the experimental end point. This technique is straightforward, inexpensive, and has many applications, including fate-mapping, cell lineage tracing, and identifying pre-patterning events along the rostro-caudal axis45
. Because of the ease of access to the avian embryo, the quail-chick graft technique may be combined with other manipulations, including but not limited to lens ablation40
, injection of inhibitory molecules57,58
, or genetic manipulation via electroporation of expression plasmids59-61
, to identify the response of particular migratory streams of NCCs to perturbations in the embryo's developmental program. Furthermore, this grafting technique may also be used to generate other interspecific chimeric embryos such as quail-duck chimeras to study NCC contribution to craniofacial morphogenesis, or mouse-chick chimeras to combine the power of mouse genetics with the ease of manipulation of the avian embryo.62
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Neural crest, chick, quail, chimera, fate map, cell migration, cell differentiation
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
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)
Intravital Imaging of Axonal Interactions with Microglia and Macrophages in a Mouse Dorsal Column Crush Injury
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Traumatic spinal cord injury causes an inflammatory reaction involving blood-derived macrophages and central nervous system (CNS)-resident microglia. Intra-vital two-photon microscopy enables the study of macrophages and microglia in the spinal cord lesion in the living animal. This can be performed in adult animals with a traumatic injury to the dorsal column. Here, we describe methods for distinguishing macrophages from microglia in the CNS using an irradiation bone marrow chimera to obtain animals in which only macrophages or microglia are labeled with a genetically encoded green fluorescent protein. We also describe a injury model that crushes the dorsal column of the spinal cord, thereby producing a simple, easily accessible, rectangular lesion that is easily visualized in an animal through a laminectomy. Furthermore, we will outline procedures to sequentially image the animals at the anatomical site of injury for the study of cellular interactions during the first few days to weeks after injury.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Intravital, spinal cord crush injury, chimera, microglia, macrophages, dorsal column crush, axonal dieback
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
Chicken Embryo Spinal Cord Slice Culture Protocol
Institutions: University College London.
Slice cultures can facilitate the manipulation of embryo development both pharmacologically and through gene manipulations. In this reduced system, potential lethal side effects due to systemic drug applications can be overcome. However, culture conditions must ensure that normal development proceeds within the reduced environment of the slice. We have focused on the development of the spinal cord, particularly that of spinal motor neurons. We systematically varied culture conditions of chicken embryo slices from the point at which most spinal motor neurons had been born. We assayed the number and type of motor neurons that survived during the culture period and the position of those motor neurons compared to that in vivo
. We found that serum type and neurotrophic factors were required during the culture period and were able to keep motor neurons alive for at least 24 hr and allow those motor neurons to migrate to appropriate positions in the spinal cord. We present these culture conditions and the methodology of preparing the embryo slice cultures using eviscerated chicken embryos embedded in agarose and sliced using a vibratome.
Developmental Biology, Issue 73, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Surgery, Cells, Animal Structures, Embryonic Structures, Nervous System, spinal cord, embryo, development, Slice-Culture, motor neuron, neurons, immunostaining, chick, imaging, animal model
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
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
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
Expression, Isolation, and Purification of Soluble and Insoluble Biotinylated Proteins for Nerve Tissue Regeneration
Institutions: University of Akron.
Recombinant protein engineering has utilized Escherichia coli (E. coli)
expression systems for nearly 4 decades, and today E. coli
is still the most widely used host organism. The flexibility of the system allows for the addition of moieties such as a biotin tag (for streptavidin interactions) and larger functional proteins like green fluorescent protein or cherry red protein. Also, the integration of unnatural amino acids like metal ion chelators, uniquely reactive functional groups, spectroscopic probes, and molecules imparting post-translational modifications has enabled better manipulation of protein properties and functionalities. As a result this technique creates customizable fusion proteins that offer significant utility for various fields of research. More specifically, the biotinylatable protein sequence has been incorporated into many target proteins because of the high affinity interaction between biotin with avidin and streptavidin. This addition has aided in enhancing detection and purification of tagged proteins as well as opening the way for secondary applications such as cell sorting. Thus, biotin-labeled molecules show an increasing and widespread influence in bioindustrial and biomedical fields. For the purpose of our research we have engineered recombinant biotinylated fusion proteins containing nerve growth factor (NGF) and semaphorin3A (Sema3A) functional regions. We have reported previously how these biotinylated fusion proteins, along with other active protein sequences, can be tethered to biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative purposes. This protocol outlines the basics of engineering biotinylatable proteins at the milligram scale, utilizing a T7 lac
inducible vector and E. coli
expression hosts, starting from transformation to scale-up and purification.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, protein engineering, recombinant protein production, AviTag, BirA, biotinylation, pET vector system, E. coli, inclusion bodies, Ni-NTA, size exclusion chromatography
The Swimmeret System of Crayfish: A Practical Guide for the Dissection of the Nerve Cord and Extracellular Recordings of the Motor Pattern
Institutions: University of Cologne.
Here we demonstrate the dissection of the crayfish abdominal nerve cord. The preparation comprises the last two thoracic ganglia (T4, T5) and the chain of abdominal ganglia (A1 to A6). This chain of ganglia includes the part of the central nervous system (CNS) that drives coordinated locomotion of the pleopods (swimmerets): the swimmeret system. It is known for over five decades that in crayfish each swimmeret is driven by its own independent pattern generating kernel that generates rhythmic alternating activity 1-3
. The motor neurons innervating the musculature of each swimmeret comprise two anatomically and functionally distinct populations 4
. One is responsible for the retraction (power stroke, PS) of the swimmeret. The other drives the protraction (return stroke, RS) of the swimmeret. Motor neurons of the swimmeret system are able to produce spontaneously a fictive motor pattern, which is identical to the pattern recorded in vivo 1
The aim of this report is to introduce an interesting and convenient model system for studying rhythm generating networks and coordination of independent microcircuits for students’ practical laboratory courses. The protocol provided includes step-by-step instructions for the dissection of the crayfish’s abdominal nerve cord, pinning of the isolated chain of ganglia, desheathing the ganglia and recording the swimmerets fictive motor pattern extracellularly from the isolated nervous system.
Additionally, we can monitor the activity of swimmeret neurons recorded intracellularly from dendrites. Here we also describe briefly these techniques and provide some examples. Furthermore, the morphology of swimmeret neurons can be assessed using various staining techniques. Here we provide examples of intracellular (by iontophoresis) dye filled neurons and backfills of pools of swimmeret motor neurons. In our lab we use this preparation to study basic functions of fictive locomotion, the effect of sensory feedback on the activity of the CNS, and coordination between microcircuits on a cellular level.
Neurobiology, Issue 93, crustacean, dissection, extracellular recording, fictive locomotion, motor neurons, locomotion
Production and Isolation of Axons from Sensory Neurons for Biochemical Analysis Using Porous Filters
Institutions: Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.
Neuronal axons use specific mechanisms to mediate extension, maintain integrity, and induce degeneration. An appropriate balance of these events is required to shape functional neuronal circuits. The protocol described here explains how to use cell culture inserts bearing a porous membrane (filter) to obtain large amounts of pure axonal preparations suitable for examination by conventional biochemical or immunocytochemical techniques. The functionality of these filter inserts will be demonstrated with models of developmental pruning and Wallerian degeneration, using explants of embryonic dorsal root ganglion. Axonal integrity and function is compromised in a wide variety of neurodegenerative pathologies. Indeed, it is now clear that axonal dysfunction appears much earlier in the course of the disease than neuronal soma loss in several neurodegenerative diseases, indicating that axonal-specific processes are primarily targeted in these disorders. By obtaining pure axonal samples for analysis by molecular and biochemical techniques, this technique has the potential to shed new light into mechanisms regulating the physiology and pathophysiology of axons. This in turn will have an impact in our understanding of the processes that drive degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, neuron, axon, filter inserts, culture system, dorsal root ganglion, axonal degeneration
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
In ovo Electroporation of miRNA-based Plasmids in the Developing Neural Tube and Assessment of Phenotypes by DiI Injection in Open-book Preparations
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Commissural dI1 neurons have been extensively studied to elucidate the mechanisms underlying axon guidance during development1,2
. These neurons are located in the dorsal spinal cord and send their axons along stereotyped trajectories. Commissural axons initially project ventrally towards and then across the floorplate. After crossing the midline, these axons make a sharp rostral turn and project longitudinally towards the brain. Each of these steps is regulated by the coordinated activities of attractive and repulsive guidance cues. The correct interpretation of these cues is crucial to the guidance of axons along their demarcated pathway. Thus, the physiological contribution of a particular molecule to commissural axon guidance is ideally investigated in the context of the living embryo. Accordingly, gene knockdown in vivo
must be precisely controlled in order to carefully distinguish axon guidance activities of genes that may play multiple roles during development.
Here, we describe a method to knockdown gene expression in the chicken neural tube in a cell type-specific, traceable manner. We use novel plasmid vectors3
harboring cell type-specific promoters/enhancers that drive the expression of a fluorescent protein marker, followed directly by a miR30-RNAi transcript4
(located within the 3'-UTR of the cDNA encoding the fluorescent protein) (Figure 1
). When electroporated into the developing neural tube, these vectors elicit efficient downregulation of gene expression and express bright fluorescent marker proteins to enable direct tracing of the cells experiencing knockdown3
. Mixing different RNAi vectors prior to electroporation allows the simultaneous knockdown of two or more genes in independent regions of the spinal cord. This permits complex cellular and molecular interactions to be examined during development, in a manner that is fast, simple, precise and inexpensive. In combination with DiI tracing of commissural axon trajectories in open-book preparations5
, this method is a useful tool for in vivo
studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of commissural axon growth and guidance. In principle, any promoter/enhancer could be used, potentially making the technique more widely applicable for in vivo
studies of gene function during development6
This video first demonstrates how to handle and window eggs, the injection of DNA plasmids into the neural tube and the electroporation procedure. To investigate commissural axon guidance, the spinal cord is removed from the embryo as an open-book preparation, fixed, and injected with DiI to enable axon pathways to be traced. The spinal cord is mounted between coverslips and visualized using confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Spinal cord, neural development, microRNA, chicken, in ovo electroporation, RNA interference, knock down, neural circuit, dissection, open-book preparation
Placing Growth Factor-Coated Beads on Early Stage Chicken Embryos
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
The neural tube expresses many proteins in specific spatiotemporal patterns during development. These proteins have been shown to be critical for cell fate determination, cell migration, and formation of neural circuits. Neuronal induction and patterning involve bone morphogenetic protein (BMP), sonic hedgehog (SHH), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), among others. In particular, the expression pattern of Fgf8 is in close proximity to regions expressing BMP4 and SHH. This expression pattern is consistent with developmental interactions that facilitate patterning in the telencephalon.
Here we provide a visual demonstration of a method in which an in ovo preparation can be used to test the effects of Fgfs in the formation of the forebrain. Beads are coated with protein and placed in the developing neural tube to provide sustained exposure. Because the procedure uses small, carefully placed beads, it is minimally invasive and allows several beads to be placed within a single neural tube. Moreover, the method allows for continued development so that embryos can be analyzed at a more mature stage to detect changes in anatomy and in neural patterning. This simple but useful protocol allows for real time imaging. It provides a means to make spatially and temporally limited changes to endogenous protein levels.
Developmental Biology, Issue 8, Neuroscience, Growth Factor, Heparin-Coated Beads, Chicken, Embryos
Preparation and Maintenance of Dorsal Root Ganglia Neurons in Compartmented Cultures
Institutions: Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School.
Neurons extend axonal processes that are far removed from the cell body to innervate target tissues, where target-derived growth factors are required for neuronal survival and function. Neurotrophins are specifically required to maintain the survival and differentiation of innervating sensory neurons but the question of how these target-derived neurotrophins communicate to the cell body of innervating neurons has been an area of active research for over 30 years. The most commonly accepted model of how neurotrophin signals reach the cell body proposes that signaling endosomes carry this signal retrogradely along the axon. In order to study retrograde transport, a culture system was originally devised by Robert Campenot, in which cell bodies are isolated from their axons. The technique of preparing these compartmented chambers for culturing sensory neurons recapitulates the selective stimulation of neuron terminals that occurs in vivo following release of target-derived neurotrophins. Retrograde signaling events that require long-range microtubule dependent retrograde transport have important implications for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 20, campenot cultures, cell culture, dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, neuronal culture
Deciphering Axonal Pathways of Genetically Defined Groups of Neurons in the Chick Neural Tube Utilizing in ovo Electroporation
Institutions: Institute for Medical Research Israel Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School.
Employment of enhancer elements to drive expression of reporter genes in neurons is a widely used paradigm for tracking axonal projection. For tracking axonal projection of spinal interneurons in vertebrates, germ line-targeted reporter genes yield bilaterally symmetric labeling. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish between the ipsi- and contra-laterally projecting axons. Unilateral electroporation into the chick neural tube provides a useful means to restrict expression of a reporter gene to one side of the central nervous system, and to follow axonal projection on both sides 1 ,2-5
. This video demonstrates first how to handle the eggs prior to injection. At HH stage 18-20, DNA is injected into the sacral level of the neural tube, then tungsten electrodes are placed parallel to the embryo and short electrical pulses are administered with a pulse generator. The egg is sealed with tape and placed back into an incubator for further development. Three days later (E6) the spinal cord is removed as an open book preparation from embryo, fixed, and processed for whole mount antibody staining. The stained spinal cord is mounted on slide and visualized using confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, in ovo electroporation, neural tube, chick, interneurons, axonal pathway