One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, email@example.com) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Dopamine Release at Individual Presynaptic Terminals Visualized with FFNs
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University, eMolecules, Inc., University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, New York Psychiatric Institute.
The nervous system transmits signals between neurons via neurotransmitter release during synaptic vesicle fusion. To observe neurotransmitter uptake and release from individual presynaptic terminals directly, we designed fluorescent false neurotransmitters as substrates for the synaptic vesicle monoamine transporter. Using these probes to image dopamine release in the striatum, we made several observations pertinent to synaptic plasticity. We found that the fraction of synaptic vesicles releasing neurotransmitter per stimulus was dependent on the stimulus frequency. A kinetically distinct "reserve" synaptic vesicle population was not observed under these experimental conditions. A frequency-dependent heterogeneity of presynaptic terminals was revealed that was dependent in part on D2 dopamine receptors, indicating a mechanism for frequency-dependent coding of presynaptic selection.
Hui Zhang and Niko G. Gubernator contributed equally to this work.
Neuroscience, Issue 30, striatal slice, dopamine, synapse, synaptic vesicles, amphetamine, optical imaging, fluorescence, release
Visualizing the Live Drosophila Glial-neuromuscular Junction with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
Our project identified GFP labeled glial structures at the developing larval fly neuromuscular synapse. To look at development of live glial-nerve-muscle synapses, we developed a larval tissue preparation that had features of live intact larvae, but also had good optical properties. This new preparation also allowed for access of perfusates to the synapse. We used fly larvae, immersed them in artificial hemolymph, and relaxed their normal rhythmic body contractions by chilling them. Next we dissected off the posterior segments of each animal and with a blunt insect pin pushed the mouth parts backward through the body cavity. This everted the larval body wall, like turning a sock inside-out. We completed the dissection with ultra-fine dissection scissors and thus exposed the visceral side of the body wall muscles. The glial structures at the NMJ expressed membrane targeted GFP under the control of glial specific promoters. The post-synaptic membrane, the SSR (Subsynaptic Reticula) in muscle expressed synaptically targeted dsRed. We needed to acutely label the motor neuron terminals, the third part of the synapse. To do this we applied primary antibodies to HRP, conjugated to a far-red emitting flurophore. To test for dye diffusion properties into the perisynaptic space between the motor neuron terminals and the SSR, we applied a solution of large Dextran molecules conjugated to far-red emitting flurophore and collected images.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, Drosophila, fluorescence, glia, NMJ synapse, live imaging, dye permeation
Lentivirus-mediated Genetic Manipulation and Visualization of Olfactory Sensory Neurons in vivo
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
Development of a precise olfactory circuit relies on accurate projection of olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) axons to their synaptic
targets in the olfactory bulb (OB). The molecular mechanisms of OSN axon growth and targeting are not well understood. Manipulating gene expression and subsequent
visualizing of single OSN axons and their terminal arbor morphology have thus far been challenging. To study gene function at the single cell level within a specified
time frame, we developed a lentiviral based technique to manipulate gene expression in OSNs in vivo
. Lentiviral particles are delivered to OSNs by microinjection
into the olfactory epithelium (OE). Expression cassettes are then permanently integrated into the genome of transduced OSNs. Green fluorescent protein expression
identifies infected OSNs and outlines their entire morphology, including the axon terminal arbor. Due to the short turnaround time between microinjection and
reporter detection, gene function studies can be focused within a very narrow period of development. With this method, we have detected GFP expression within as
few as three days and as long as three months following injection. We have achieved both over-expression and shRNA mediated knock-down by lentiviral microinjection.
This method provides detailed morphologies of OSN cell bodies and axons at the single cell level in vivo
, and thus allows characterization of candidate gene function
during olfactory development.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, lentivirus, olfactory, sensory, neurons, genetics
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
Dual Electrophysiological Recordings of Synaptically-evoked Astroglial and Neuronal Responses in Acute Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: Collège de France, Paris Diderot University.
Astrocytes form together with neurons tripartite synapses, where they integrate and modulate neuronal activity. Indeed, astrocytes sense neuronal inputs through activation of their ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors, and process information in part through activity-dependent release of gliotransmitters. Furthermore, astrocytes constitute the main uptake system for glutamate, contribute to potassium spatial buffering, as well as to GABA clearance. These cells therefore constantly monitor synaptic activity, and are thereby sensitive indicators for alterations in synaptically-released glutamate, GABA and extracellular potassium levels. Additionally, alterations in astroglial uptake activity or buffering capacity can have severe effects on neuronal functions, and might be overlooked when characterizing physiopathological situations or knockout mice. Dual recording of neuronal and astroglial activities is therefore an important method to study alterations in synaptic strength associated to concomitant changes in astroglial uptake and buffering capacities. Here we describe how to prepare hippocampal slices, how to identify stratum radiatum
astrocytes, and how to record simultaneously neuronal and astroglial electrophysiological responses. Furthermore, we describe how to isolate pharmacologically the synaptically-evoked astroglial currents.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, hippocampus preparation, acute brain slice, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, neurons, astrocytes, astroglial, neuroglial interactions, glutamate transporter current, potassium current, paired recordings, synaptic activity, synaptically-evoked responses
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
Lineage-reprogramming of Pericyte-derived Cells of the Adult Human Brain into Induced Neurons
Institutions: Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
Direct lineage-reprogramming of non-neuronal cells into induced neurons (iNs) may provide insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying neurogenesis and enable new strategies for in vitro
modeling or repairing the diseased brain. Identifying brain-resident non-neuronal cell types amenable to direct conversion into iNs might allow for launching such an approach in situ
within the damaged brain tissue. Here we describe a protocol developed in the attempt of identifying cells derived from the adult human brain that fulfill this premise. This protocol involves: (1) the culturing of human cells from the cerebral cortex obtained from adult human brain biopsies; (2) the in vitro
expansion (approximately requiring 2-4 weeks) and characterization of the culture by immunocytochemistry and flow cytometry; (3) the enrichment by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) using anti-PDGF receptor-β and anti-CD146 antibodies; (4) the retrovirus-mediated transduction with the neurogenic transcription factors sox2 and ascl1; (5) and finally the characterization of the resultant pericyte-derived induced neurons (PdiNs) by immunocytochemistry (14 days to 8 weeks following retroviral transduction). At this stage, iNs can be probed for their electrical properties by patch-clamp recording. This protocol provides a highly reproducible procedure for the in vitro
lineage conversion of brain-resident pericytes into functional human iNs.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Pericytes, lineage-reprogramming, induced neurons, cerebral cortex
Vibrodissociation of Neurons from Rodent Brain Slices to Study Synaptic Transmission and Image Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ewha Womans University, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mechanical dissociation of neurons from the central nervous system has the advantage that presynaptic boutons remain attached to the isolated neuron of interest. This allows for examination of synaptic transmission under conditions where the extracellular and postsynaptic intracellular environments can be well controlled. A vibration-based technique without the use of proteases, known as vibrodissociation, is the most popular technique for mechanical isolation. A micropipette, with the tip fire-polished to the shape of a small ball, is placed into a brain slice made from a P1-P21 rodent. The micropipette is vibrated parallel to the slice surface and lowered through the slice thickness resulting in the liberation of isolated neurons. The isolated neurons are ready for study within a few minutes of vibrodissociation. This technique has advantages over the use of primary neuronal cultures, brain slices and enzymatically isolated neurons including: rapid production of viable, relatively mature neurons suitable for electrophysiological and imaging studies; superior control of the extracellular environment free from the influence of neighboring cells; suitability for well-controlled pharmacological experiments using rapid drug application and total cell superfusion; and improved space-clamp in whole-cell recordings relative to neurons in slice or cell culture preparations. This preparation can be used to examine synaptic physiology, pharmacology, modulation and plasticity. Real-time imaging of both pre- and postsynaptic elements in the living cells and boutons is also possible using vibrodissociated neurons. Characterization of the molecular constituents of pre- and postsynaptic elements can also be achieved with immunological and imaging-based approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, neuronal dissociation, synaptic transmission, GABA, calcium imaging, electrophysiology, hippocampus, striatum
Quantitative Analysis of Synaptic Vesicle Pool Replenishment in Cultured Cerebellar Granule Neurons using FM Dyes
Institutions: University of Edinburgh.
After neurotransmitter release in central nerve terminals, SVs are rapidly retrieved by endocytosis. Retrieved SVs are then refilled with neurotransmitter and rejoin the recycling pool, defined as SVs that are available for exocytosis1,2
. The recycling pool can generally be subdivided into two distinct pools - the readily releasable pool (RRP) and the reserve pool (RP). As their names imply, the RRP consists of SVs that are immediately available for fusion while RP SVs are released only during intense stimulation1,2
. It is important to have a reliable assay that reports the differential replenishment of these SV pools in order to understand 1) how SVs traffic after different modes of endocytosis (such as clathrin-dependent endocytosis and activity-dependent bulk endocytosis) and 2) the mechanisms controlling the mobilisation of both the RRP and RP in response to different stimuli.
FM dyes are routinely employed to quantitatively report SV turnover in central nerve terminals3-8
. They have a hydrophobic hydrocarbon tail that allows reversible partitioning in the lipid bilayer, and a hydrophilic head group that blocks passage across membranes. The dyes have little fluorescence in aqueous solution, but their quantum yield increases dramatically when partitioned in membrane9
. Thus FM dyes are ideal fluorescent probes for tracking actively recycling SVs. The standard protocol for use of FM dye is as follows. First they are applied to neurons and are taken up during endocytosis (Figure 1). After non-internalised dye is washed away from the plasma membrane, recycled SVs redistribute within the recycling pool. These SVs are then depleted using unloading stimuli (Figure 1). Since FM dye labelling of SVs is quantal10
, the resulting fluorescence drop is proportional to the amount of vesicles released. Thus, the recycling and fusion of SVs generated from the previous round of endocytosis can be reliably quantified.
Here, we present a protocol that has been modified to obtain two additional elements of information. Firstly, sequential unloading stimuli are used to differentially unload the RRP and the RP, to allow quantification of the replenishment of specific SV pools. Secondly, each nerve terminal undergoes the protocol twice. Thus, the response of the same nerve terminal at S1 can be compared against the presence of a test substance at phase S2 (Figure 2), providing an internal control. This is important, since the extent of SV recycling across different nerve terminals is highly variable11
Any adherent primary neuronal cultures may be used for this protocol, however the plating density, solutions and stimulation conditions are optimised for cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs)12,13
Neuroscience, Issue 57, synaptic vesicle, neuron, recycling pool, readily releasable pool, reserve pool, replenishment, FM dyes, exocytosis, endocytosis
Physiological Recordings of High and Low Output NMJs on the Crayfish Leg Extensor Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
We explain in detail how to expose and conduct electrophysiological recordings of synaptic responses for high (phasic) and low (tonic) output motor neurons innervating the extensor muscle in the walking leg of a crayfish. Distinct differences are present in the physiology and morphology of the phasic and tonic nerve terminals. The tonic axon contains many more mitochondria, enabling it to take a vital stain more intensely than the phasic axon. The tonic terminals have varicosities, and the phasic terminal is filiform. The tonic terminals are low in synaptic efficacy but show dramatic facilitated responses. In contrast, the phasic terminals are high in quantal efficacy but show synaptic depression with high frequency stimulation. The quantal output is measured with a focal macropatch electrode placed directly over the visualized nerve terminals. Both phasic and tonic terminals innervate the same muscle fibers, which suggests that inherent differences in the neurons, rather than differential retrograde feedback from the muscle, account for the morphological and physiological differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, crayfish, neuromuscular junction, invertebrate, motor neuron, muscle
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
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
Presynaptically Silent Synapses Studied with Light Microscopy
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
Synaptic plasticity likely underlies the nervous system's ability to learn and remember and may also represent an adaptability that prevents otherwise damaging insults from becoming neurotoxic. We have been studying a form of presynaptic plasticity that is interesting in part because it is expressed as a digital switching on and off of a presynaptic terminal s ability to release vesicles containing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Here we demonstrate a protocol for visualizing the activity status of presynaptic terminals in dissociated cell cultures prepared from the rodent hippocampus. The method relies on detecting active synapses using staining with a fixable form of the styryl dye FM1-43, commonly used to label synaptic vesicles. This staining profile is compared with immunostaining of the same terminals with an antibody directed against the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT-1), a stain designed to label all glutamate synapses regardless of activation status. We find that depolarizing stimuli induce presynaptic silencing. The population of synapses that is silent under baseline conditions can be activated by prolonged electrical silencing or by activation of cAMP signaling pathways.
Neurobiology, Issue 35, glutamate, synaptic plasticity, cAMP, excitotoxicity, homeostasis, FM1-43, presynaptic plasticity
Patch-clamp Capacitance Measurements and Ca2+ Imaging at Single Nerve Terminals in Retinal Slices
Institutions: Oregon Health and Science University.
Visual stimuli are detected and conveyed over a wide dynamic range of light intensities and frequency changes by specialized neurons in the vertebrate retina. Two classes of retinal neurons, photoreceptors and bipolar cells, accomplish this by using ribbon-type active zones, which enable sustained and high-throughput neurotransmitter release over long time periods. ON-type mixed bipolar cell (Mb) terminals in the goldfish retina, which depolarize to light stimuli and receive mixed rod and cone photoreceptor input, are suitable for the study of ribbon-type synapses both due to their large size (~10-12 μm diameter) and to their numerous lateral and reciprocal synaptic connections with amacrine cell dendrites. Direct access to Mb bipolar cell terminals in goldfish retinal slices with the patch-clamp technique allows the measurement of presynaptic Ca2+
currents, membrane capacitance changes, and reciprocal synaptic feedback inhibition mediated by GABAA
receptors expressed on the terminals. Presynaptic membrane capacitance measurements of exocytosis allow one to study the short-term plasticity of excitatory neurotransmitter release 14,15
. In addition, short-term and long-term plasticity of inhibitory neurotransmitter release from amacrine cells can also be investigated by recordings of reciprocal feedback inhibition arriving at the Mb terminal 21
. Over short periods of time (e.g. ~10 s), GABAergic reciprocal feedback inhibition from amacrine cells undergoes paired-pulse depression via GABA vesicle pool depletion 11
. The synaptic dynamics of retinal microcircuits in the inner plexiform layer of the retina can thus be directly studied.
The brain-slice technique was introduced more than 40 years ago but is still very useful for the investigation of the electrical properties of neurons, both at the single cell soma, single dendrite or axon, and microcircuit synaptic level 19
. Tissues that are too small to be glued directly onto the slicing chamber are often first embedded in agar (or placed onto a filter paper) and then sliced 20, 23, 18, 9
. In this video, we employ the pre-embedding agar technique using goldfish retina. Some of the giant bipolar cell terminals in our slices of goldfish retina are axotomized (axon-cut) during the slicing procedure. This allows us to isolate single presynaptic nerve terminal inputs, because recording from axotomized terminals excludes the signals from the soma-dendritic compartment. Alternatively, one can also record from intact Mb bipolar cells, by recording from terminals attached to axons that have not been cut during the slicing procedure. Overall, use of this experimental protocol will aid in studies of retinal synaptic physiology, microcircuit functional analysis, and synaptic transmission at ribbon synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 59, synaptic physiology, axon terminal, synaptic ribbon, retina microcircuits, goldfish, zebrafish, brain slices, patch-clamp, membrane capacitance measurements, calcium-imaging, exocytosis, transmitter release
A Rapid and Specific Microplate Assay for the Determination of Intra- and Extracellular Ascorbate in Cultured Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney, Monash University.
Vitamin C (ascorbate) plays numerous important roles in cellular metabolism, many of which have only come to light in recent years. For instance, within the brain, ascorbate acts in a neuroprotective and neuromodulatory manner that involves ascorbate cycling between neurons and vicinal astrocytes - a relationship that appears to be crucial for brain ascorbate homeostasis. Additionally, emerging evidence strongly suggests that ascorbate has a greatly expanded role in regulating cellular and systemic iron metabolism than is classically recognized. The increasing recognition of the integral role of ascorbate in normal and deregulated cellular and organismal physiology demands a range of medium-throughput and high-sensitivity analytic techniques that can be executed without the need for highly expensive specialist equipment. Here we provide explicit instructions for a medium-throughput, specific and relatively inexpensive microplate assay for the determination of both intra- and extracellular ascorbate in cell culture.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, Vitamin C, Ascorbate, Cell swelling, Glutamate, Microplate assay, Astrocytes
Loading Drosophila Nerve Terminals with Calcium Indicators
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Calcium plays many roles in the nervous system but none more impressive than as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, and none more profound than as the messenger essential for the synaptic plasticity that supports learning and memory. To further elucidate the molecular underpinnings of Ca2+
-dependent synaptic mechanisms, a model system is required that is both genetically malleable and physiologically accessible. Drosophila melanogaster provides such a model. In this system, genetically-encoded fluorescent indicators are available to detect Ca2+
changes in nerve terminals. However, these indicators have limited sensitivity to Ca2+
and often show a non-linear response. Synthetic fluorescent indicators are better suited for measuring the rapid Ca2+
changes associated with nerve activity. Here we demonstrate a technique for loading dextran-conjugated synthetic Ca2+
indicators into live nerve terminals in Drosophila larvae. Particular emphasis is placed on those aspects of the protocol most critical to the technique's success, such as how to avoid static electricity discharges along the isolated nerves, maintaining the health of the preparation during extended loading periods, and ensuring axon survival by providing Ca2+
to promote sealing of severed axon endings. Low affinity dextran-conjugated Ca2+
-indicators, such as fluo-4 and rhod, are available which show a high signal-to-noise ratio while minimally disrupting presynaptic Ca2+
dynamics. Dextran-conjugation helps prevent Ca2+
indicators being sequestered into organelles such as mitochondria. The loading technique can be applied equally to larvae, embryos and adults.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Drosophila, neuron, imaging