In this paper we describe the tools, reagents, and the practical steps that are needed for: 1) successful preparation of wholemount retinas for immunohistochemistry and, 2) calcium imaging for the study of voltage gated calcium channel (VGCC) mediated calcium signaling in retinal ganglion cells. The calcium imaging method we describe circumvents issues concerning non-specific loading of displaced amacrine cells in the ganglion cell layer.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Morphometric Analyses of Retinal Sections
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong.
Morphometric analyses of retinal sections have been used in examining retinal diseases. For examples, neuronal cells were significantly lost in the retinal ganglion cell layer (RGCL) in rat models with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)–induced excitotoxicity1
, retinal ischemia-reperfusion injury2
. Reduction of INL and inner plexiform layer (IPL) thicknesses were reversed with citicoline treatment in rats' eyes subjected to kainic acid-mediated glutamate excitotoxicity4
. Alteration of RGC density and soma sizes were observed with different drug treatments in eyes with elevated intraocular pressure3,5,6
. Therefore, having objective methods of analyzing the retinal morphometries may be of great significance in evaluating retinal pathologies and the effectiveness of therapeutic strategies.
The retinal structure is multi-layers and several different kinds of neurons exist in the retina. The morphometric parameters of retina such as cell number, cell size and thickness of different layers are more complex than the cell culture system. Early on, these parameters can be detected using other commercial imaging software. The values are normally of relative value, and changing to the precise value may need further accurate calculation. Also, the tracing of the cell size and morphology may not be accurate and sensitive enough for statistic analysis, especially in the chronic glaucoma model. The measurements used in this protocol provided a more precise and easy way. And the absolute length of the line and size of the cell can be reported directly and easy to be copied to other files. For example, we traced the margin of the inner and outer most nuclei in the INL and formed a line then using the software to draw a 90 degree angle to measure the thickness. While without the help of the software, the line maybe oblique and the changing of retinal thickness may not be repeatable among individual observers. In addition, the number and density of RGCs can also be quantified. This protocol successfully decreases the variability in quantitating features of the retina, increases the sensitivity in detecting minimal changes.
This video will demonstrate three types of morphometric analyses of the retinal sections. They include measuring the INL thickness, quantifying the number of RGCs and measuring the sizes of RGCs in absolute value. These three analyses are carried out with Stereo Investigator (MBF Bioscience — MicroBrightField, Inc.). The technique can offer a simple but scientific platform for morphometric analyses.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, morphometric analysis, retina, thickness, cell size, Stereo Investigator, neuroscience
Transfection of Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells by in vivo Electroporation
Institutions: Yale University, Baylor College of Medicine.
The targeting and refinement of RGC projections to the midbrain is a popular and powerful model system for studying how precise patterns of neural connectivity form during development. In mice, retinofugal projections are arranged in a topographic manner and form eye-specific layers in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus (dLGN) of the thalamus and the Superior Colliculus (SC). The development of these precise patterns of retinofugal projections has typically been studied by labeling populations of RGCs with fluorescent dyes and tracers, such as horseradish peroxidase1-4
. However, these methods are too coarse to provide insight into developmental changes in individual RGC axonal arbor morphology that are the basis of retinotopic map formation. They also do not allow for the genetic manipulation of RGCs.
Recently, electroporation has become an effective method for providing precise spatial and temporal control for delivery of charged molecules into the retina5-11
. Current retinal electroporation protocols do not allow for genetic manipulation and tracing of retinofugal projections of a single or small cluster of RGCs in postnatal mice. It has been argued that postnatal in vivo
electroporation is not a viable method for transfecting RGCs since the labeling efficiency is extremely low and hence requires targeting at embryonic ages when RGC progenitors are undergoing differentiation and proliferation6
In this video we describe an in vivo
electroporation protocol for targeted delivery of genes, shRNA, and fluorescent dextrans to murine RGCs postnatally. This technique provides a cost effective, fast and relatively easy platform for efficient screening of candidate genes involved in several aspects of neural development including axon retraction, branching, lamination, regeneration and synapse formation at various stages of circuit development. In summary we describe here a valuable tool which will provide further insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying sensory map development.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Retinotopy, Eye Segregation, Superior Colliculus, Lateral Geniculate Nucleus, Visual Development, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retina, Electroporation
The Gateway to the Brain: Dissecting the Primate Eye
Institutions: University of Montreal, University of Montreal, Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres.
The visual system in humans is considered the gateway to the world and plays a principal role in the plethora of sensory, perceptual and cognitive processes. It is therefore not surprising that quality of vision is tied to quality of life . Despite widespread clinical and basic research surrounding the causes of visual disorders, many forms of visual impairments, such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, lack effective treatments. Non-human primates have the closest general features of eye development to that of humans. Not only do they have a similar vascular anatomy, but amongst other mammals, primates have the unique characteristic of having a region in the temporal retina specialized for high visual acuity, the fovea1
. Here we describe a general technique for dissecting the primate retina to provide tissue for retinal histology, immunohistochemistry, laser capture microdissection, as well as light and electron microscopy. With the extended use of the non-human primate as a translational model, our hope is that improved understanding of the retina will provide insights into effective approaches towards attenuating or reversing the negative impact of visual disorders on the quality of life of affected individuals.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, Non-human primate, eye, retina, dissection, retina ganglion cells, cornea
A Novel Light Damage Paradigm for Use in Retinal Regeneration Studies in Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Light-induced retinal degeneration (LIRD) is commonly used in both rodents and zebrafish to damage rod and cone photoreceptors. In adult zebrafish, photoreceptor degeneration triggers Müller glial cells to re-enter the cell cycle and produce transient-amplifying progenitors. These progenitors continue to proliferate as they migrate to the damaged area, where they ultimately give rise to new photoreceptors. Currently, there are two widely-used LIRD paradigms, each of which results in varying degrees of photoreceptor loss and corresponding differences in the regeneration response. As more genetic and pharmacological tools are available to test the role of individual genes of interest during regeneration, there is a need to develop a robust LIRD paradigm. Here we describe a LIRD protocol that results in widespread and consistent loss of both rod and cone photoreceptors in which we have combined the use of two previously established LIRD techniques. Furthermore, this protocol can be extended for use in pigmented animals, which eliminates the need to maintain transgenic lines of interest on the albino background for LIRD studies.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Zebrafish, Retinal Degeneration, Retina, Photoreceptor, Müller glia, Light damage
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
Organotypic Culture of Full-thickness Adult Porcine Retina
Institutions: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - UMDNJ, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - UMDNJ.
There is a recognized demand for in vitro
models that can replace or reduce animal experiments. Porcine retina has a similar neuronal structure to human retina and is therefore a valuable species for studying mechanisms of human retinal injury and degenerative disease. Here we describe a cost-effective technique for organotypic culture of adult porcine retina isolated from eyes obtained from an abattoir. After removing the anterior segment, a trephine blade was used to create multiple neural retina-Bruch's membrane-RPE-choroid-sclera explants from the posterior segment of adult porcine eyes. A piece of sterile filter paper was used to lift the neural retina off from each explant. The filter paper-retina complex was cultured (photoreceptor side up) atop an insert, which was held away from the bottom of the culture dish by a custom-made stand. The stand allows for good circulation of the culture medium to both sides of the retina. Overall, this procedure is simple, reproducible, and permits preservation of native retinal structure for at least seven days, making it a useful model for a variety of morphological, pharmacological, and biochemical studies on mammalian retina.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Retina, in vitro, Porcine, Photoreceptor
Quantifying the Activity of cis-Regulatory Elements in the Mouse Retina by Explant Electroporation
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine.
Transcription factors within cellular gene networks control the spatiotemporal pattern and levels of expression of their target genes by binding to cis
-regulatory elements (CREs), short (˜300-600 bp) stretches of genomic DNA which can lie upstream, downstream, or within the introns of the genes they control. CREs (i.e.
, enhancers/promoters) typically consist of multiple clustered binding sites for both transcriptional activators and repressors1-3
. They serve as logical integrators of transcriptional input giving a unitary output in the form of spatiotemporally precise and quantitatively exact promoter activity. Most studies of mammalian cis
-regulation to date have relied on mouse transgenesis as a means of assaying the enhancer function of CREs4-5
. This technique is time-consuming, costly and, on account of insertion site effects, largely non-quantitative. On the other hand, quantitative assays for mammalian CRE function have been developed in tissue culture systems (e.g.
, dual luciferase assays), but the in vivo
relevance of these results is often uncertain.
Electroporation offers an excellent alternative to traditional mouse transgenesis in that it permits both spatiotemporal and quantitative assessment of cis
-regulatory activity in living mammalian tissue. This technique has been particularly useful in the analysis of cis
-regulation in the central nervous system, especially in the cerebral cortex and the retina6-8
. While mouse retinal electroporation, both in vivo
and ex vivo
, has been developed and extensively described by Matsuda and Cepko6-7,9
, we have recently developed a simple approach to quantify the activity of photoreceptor-specific CREs in electroporated mouse retinas10
. Given that the amount of DNA that is introduced into the retina by electroporation can vary from experiment to experiment, it is necessary to include a co-electroporated 'loading control' in all experiments. In this respect, the technique is very similar to the dual luciferase assay used to quantify promoter activity in cultured cells.
When assaying photoreceptor cis
-regulatory activity, electroporation is usually performed in newborn mice (postnatal day 0, P0) which is the time of peak rod production11-12
. Once retinal cell types become post-mitotic, electroporation is much less efficient. Given the high rate of rod birth in newborn mice and the fact that rods constitute more than 70% of the cells in the adult mouse retina, the majority of cells that are electroporated at P0 are rods. For this reason, rod photoreceptors are the easiest retinal cell type to study via electroporation. The technique we describe here is primarily useful for quantifying the activity of photoreceptor CREs.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, retina, photoreceptor, cis-regulatory element, quantification, electroporation, promoter analysis
Dissection, Culture, and Analysis of Xenopus laevis Embryonic Retinal Tissue
Institutions: College of William and Mary.
The process by which the anterior region of the neural plate gives rise to the vertebrate retina continues to be a major focus of both clinical and basic research. In addition to the obvious medical relevance for understanding and treating retinal disease, the development of the vertebrate retina continues to serve as an important and elegant model system for understanding neuronal cell type determination and differentiation1-16
. The neural retina consists of six discrete cell types (ganglion, amacrine, horizontal, photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and Müller glial cells) arranged in stereotypical layers, a pattern that is largely conserved among all vertebrates 12,14-18
While studying the retina in the intact developing embryo is clearly required for understanding how this complex organ develops from a protrusion of the forebrain into a layered structure, there are many questions that benefit from employing approaches using primary cell culture of presumptive retinal cells 7,19-23
. For example, analyzing cells from tissues removed and dissociated at different stages allows one to discern the state of specification of individual cells at different developmental stages, that is, the fate of the cells in the absence of interactions with neighboring tissues 8,19-22,24-33
. Primary cell culture also allows the investigator to treat the culture with specific reagents and analyze the results on a single cell level 5,8,21,24,27-30,33-39
. Xenopus laevis,
a classic model system for the study of early neural development 19,27,29,31-32,40-42
, serves as a particularly suitable system for retinal primary cell culture 10,38,43-45
Presumptive retinal tissue is accessible from the earliest stages of development, immediately following neural induction 25,38,43
. In addition, given that each cell in the embryo contains a supply of yolk, retinal cells can be cultured in a very simple defined media consisting of a buffered salt solution, thus removing the confounding effects of incubation or other sera-based products 10,24,44-45
However, the isolation of the retinal tissue from surrounding tissues and the subsequent processing is challenging. Here, we present a method for the dissection and dissociation of retinal cells in Xenopus laevis
that will be used to prepare primary cell cultures that will, in turn, be analyzed for calcium activity and gene expression at the resolution of single cells. While the topic presented in this paper is the analysis of spontaneous calcium transients, the technique is broadly applicable to a wide array of research questions and approaches (Figure 1
Developmental Biology, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Surgery, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, retina, primary cell culture, dissection, confocal microscopy, calcium imaging, fluorescent in situ hybridization, FISH, Xenopus laevis, animal model
Regioselective Biolistic Targeting in Organotypic Brain Slices Using a Modified Gene Gun
Institutions: University of Toronto, MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.
Transfection of DNA has been invaluable for biological sciences and with recent advances to organotypic brain slice preparations, the effect of various heterologous genes could thus be investigated easily while maintaining many aspects of in vivo
biology. There has been increasing interest to transfect terminally differentiated neurons for which conventional transfection methods have been fraught with difficulties such as low yields and significant losses in viability. Biolistic transfection can circumvent many of these difficulties yet only recently has this technique been modified so that it is amenable for use in mammalian tissues.
New modifications to the accelerator chamber have enhanced the gene gun's firing accuracy and increased its depths of penetration while also allowing the use of lower gas pressure (50 psi) without loss of transfection efficiency as well as permitting a focused regioselective spread of the particles to within 3 mm. In addition, this technique is straight forward and faster to perform than tedious microinjections. Both transient and stable expression are possible with nanoparticle bombardment where episomal expression can be detected within 24 hr and the cell survival was shown to be better than, or at least equal to, conventional methods. This technique has however one crucial advantage: it permits the transfection to be localized within a single restrained radius thus enabling the user to anatomically isolate the heterologous gene's effects. Here we present an in-depth protocol to prepare viable adult organotypic slices and submit them to regioselective transfection using an improved gene gun.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Biolistics, gene gun, organotypic brain slices, Diolistic, gene delivery, staining
An Optic Nerve Crush Injury Murine Model to Study Retinal Ganglion Cell Survival
Institutions: NIH, The Second Hospital of Harbin Medical University.
Injury to the optic nerve can lead to axonal degeneration, followed by a gradual death of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which results in irreversible vision loss. Examples of such diseases in human include traumatic optic neuropathy and optic nerve degeneration in glaucoma. It is characterized by typical changes in the optic nerve head, progressive optic nerve degeneration, and loss of retinal ganglion cells, if uncontrolled, leading to vision loss and blindness.
The optic nerve crush (ONC) injury mouse model is an important experimental disease model for traumatic optic neuropathy, glaucoma, etc. In this model, the crush injury to the optic nerve leads to gradual retinal ganglion cells apoptosis. This disease model can be used to study the general processes and mechanisms of neuronal death and survival, which is essential for the development of therapeutic measures. In addition, pharmacological and molecular approaches can be used in this model to identify and test potential therapeutic reagents to treat different types of optic neuropathy.
Here, we provide a step by step demonstration of (I) Baseline retrograde labeling of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) at day 1, (II) Optic nerve crush injury at day 4, (III) Harvest the retinae and analyze RGC survival at day 11, and (IV) Representative result.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, optic nerve crush injury, retinal ganglion cell, glaucoma, optic neuropathy, retrograde labeling
Subretinal Transplantation of MACS Purified Photoreceptor Precursor Cells into the Adult Mouse Retina
Institutions: Technische Universität Dresden.
Vision impairment and blindness due to the loss of the light-sensing cells of the retina, i.e.
photoreceptors, represents the main reason for disability in industrialized countries. Replacement of degenerated photoreceptors by cell transplantation represents a possible treatment option in future clinical applications. Indeed, recent preclinical studies demonstrated that immature photoreceptors, isolated from the neonatal mouse retina at postnatal day 4, have the potential to integrate into the adult mouse retina following subretinal transplantation. Donor cells generated a mature photoreceptor morphology including inner and outer segments, a round cell body located at the outer nuclear layer, and synaptic terminals in close proximity to endogenous bipolar cells. Indeed, recent reports demonstrated that donor photoreceptors functionally integrate into the neural circuitry of host mice. For a future clinical application of such cell replacement approach, purified suspensions of the cells of choice have to be generated and placed at the correct position for proper integration into the eye. For the enrichment of photoreceptor precursors, sorting should be based on specific cell surface antigens to avoid genetic reporter modification of donor cells. Here we show magnetic-associated cell sorting (MACS) - enrichment of transplantable rod photoreceptor precursors isolated from the neonatal retina of photoreceptor-specific reporter mice based on the cell surface marker CD73. Incubation with anti-CD73 antibodies followed by micro-bead conjugated secondary antibodies allowed the enrichment of rod photoreceptor precursors by MACS to approximately 90%. In comparison to flow cytometry, MACS has the advantage that it can be easier applied to GMP standards and that high amounts of cells can be sorted in relative short time periods. Injection of enriched cell suspensions into the subretinal space of adult wild-type mice resulted in a 3-fold higher integration rate compared to unsorted cell suspensions.
Medicine, Issue 84, Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate, Retinal Degeneration, Regeneration, retina, magnetic associated cell sorting (MACS), transplantation, regenerative therapy
An Isolated Retinal Preparation to Record Light Response from Genetically Labeled Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The first steps in vertebrate vision take place when light stimulates the rod and cone photoreceptors of the retina 1
. This information is then segregated into what are known as the ON and OFF pathways. The photoreceptors signal light information to the bipolar cells (BCs), which depolarize in response to increases (On BCs) or decreases (Off BCs) in light intensity. This segregation of light information is maintained at the level of the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which have dendrites stratifying in either the Off sublamina of the inner plexiform layer (IPL), where they receive direct excitatory input from Off BCs, or stratifying in the On sublamina of the IPL, where they receive direct excitatory input from On BCs. This segregation of information regarding increases or decreases in illumination (the On and Off pathways) is conserved and signaled to the brain in parallel.
The RGCs are the output cells of the retina, and are thus an important cell to study in order to understand how light information is signaled to visual nuclei in the brain. Advances in mouse genetics over recent decades have resulted in a variety of fluorescent reporter mouse lines where specific RGC populations are labeled with a fluorescent protein to allow for identification of RGC subtypes 2 3 4
and specific targeting for electrophysiological recording. Here, we present a method for recording light responses from fluorescently labeled ganglion cells in an intact, isolated retinal preparation. This isolated retinal preparation allows for recordings from RGCs where the dendritic arbor is intact and the inputs across the entire RGC dendritic arbor are preserved. This method is applicable across a variety of ganglion cell subtypes and is amenable to a wide variety of single-cell physiological techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, isolated, retina, ganglion cell, electrophysiology, patch clamp, transgenic, mouse, fluorescent
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells in Adult Zebrafish with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University of Science and Technology of China.
As retrograde labeling retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) can isolate RGCs somata from dying sites, it has become the gold standard for counting RGCs in RGCs survival and regeneration experiments. Many studies have been performed in mammalian animals to research RGCs survival after optic nerve injury. However, retrograde labeling of RGCs in adult zebrafish has not yet been reported, though some alternative methods can count cell numbers in retinal ganglion cell layers (RGCL). Considering the small size of the adult zebrafish skull and the high risk of death after drilling on the skull, we open the skull with the help of acid-etching and seal the hole with a light curing bond, which could significantly improve the survival rate. After absorbing the dyes for 5 days, almost all the RGCs are labeled. As this method does not need to transect the optic nerve, it is irreplaceable in the research of RGCs survival after optic nerve crush in adult zebrafish. Here, we introduce this method step by step and provide representative results.
Neuroscience, Issue 87,
Adult Zebrafish, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retrograde Labeling, DiI
Optic Nerve Transection: A Model of Adult Neuron Apoptosis in the Central Nervous System
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve.
The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve
transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous
chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals
through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying short interfering RNAs
(siRNAs), plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 5-7
or injecting vectors into their target, the superior colliculus 8
This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the desired neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia.
An additional benefit is the ease and accuracy with which cell survival can be quantified after injury. The retina is a flat, layered tissue and RGCs are localized in
the innermost layer, the ganglion cell layer. The survival of RGCs can be tracked over time by applying a fluorescent tracer (3% Fluorogold) to the cut end of the
optic nerve at the time of axotomy, or by injecting the tracer into the superior colliculus (RGC target) one week prior to axotomy. The tracer is retrogradely transported, labeling
the entire RGC population. Because the ganglion cell layer is a monolayer (one cell thick), RGC densities can be quantified in flat-mounted tissue, without the need
for stereology. Optic nerve transection leads to the apoptotic death of 90% of injured RGCs within 14 days postaxotomy 9-11
. RGC apoptosis has a
characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a time window for
experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis.
Neuroscience, issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retina, Apoptosis, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Rat, Retrograde Labeling, Rat Model
Single-cell Profiling of Developing and Mature Retinal Neurons
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Highly specialized, but exceedingly small populations of cells play important roles in many tissues. The identification of cell-type specific markers and gene expression programs for extremely rare cell subsets has been a challenge using standard whole-tissue approaches. Gene expression profiling of individual cells allows for unprecedented access to cell types that comprise only a small percentage of the total tissue1-7
. In addition, this technique can be used to examine the gene expression programs that are transiently expressed in small numbers of cells during dynamic developmental transitions8
This issue of cellular diversity arises repeatedly in the central nervous system (CNS) where neuronal connections can occur between quite diverse cells9
. The exact number of distinct cell types is not precisely known, but it has been estimated that there may be as many as 1000 different types in the cortex itself10
. The function(s) of complex neural circuits may rely on some of the rare neuronal types and the genes they express. By identifying new markers and helping to molecularly classify different neurons, the single-cell approach is particularly useful in the analysis of cell types in the nervous system. It may also help to elucidate mechanisms of neural development by identifying differentially expressed genes and gene pathways during early stages of neuronal progenitor development.
As a simple, easily accessed tissue with considerable neuronal diversity, the vertebrate retina is an excellent model system for studying the processes of cellular development, neuronal differentiation and neuronal diversification. However, as in other parts of the CNS, this cellular diversity can present a problem for determining the genetic pathways that drive retinal progenitors to adopt a specific cell fate, especially given that rod photoreceptors make up the majority of the total retinal cell population11
. Here we report a method for the identification of the transcripts expressed in single retinal cells (Figure 1
). The single-cell profiling technique allows for the assessment of the amount of heterogeneity present within different cellular populations of the retina2,4,5,12
. In addition, this method has revealed a host of new candidate genes that may play role(s) in the cell fate decision-making processes that occur in subsets of retinal progenitor cells8
. With some simple adjustments to the protocol, this technique can be utilized for many different tissues and cell types.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Single-cells, transcriptomics, gene expression, cell-type markers, retina, neurons, genetics
In utero and ex vivo Electroporation for Gene Expression in Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The retina and its sole output neuron, the retinal ganglion cell (RGC), comprise an excellent model in which to examine biological questions such as cell differentiation, axon guidance, retinotopic organization and synapse formation. One drawback is the inability to efficiently and reliably manipulate gene expression in RGCs in vivo
, especially in the otherwise accessible murine visual pathways. Transgenic mice can be used to manipulate gene expression, but this approach is often expensive, time consuming, and can produce unwanted side effects. In chick, in ovo electroporation is used to manipulate gene expression in RGCs for examining retina and RGC development. Although similar electroporation techniques have been developed in neonatal mouse pups, adult rats, and embryonic murine retinae in vitro
, none of these strategies allow full characterization of RGC development and axon projections in vivo
. To this end, we have developed two applications of electroporation, one in utero
and the other ex vivo
, to specifically target embryonic murine RGCs[5, 6].
With in utero
retinal electroporation, we can misexpress or downregulate specific genes in RGCs and follow their axon projections through the visual pathways in vivo
, allowing examination of guidance decisions at intermediate targets, such as the optic chiasm, or at target regions, such as the lateral geniculate nucleus. Perturbing gene expression in a subset of RGCs in an otherwise wild-type background facilitates an understanding of gene function throughout the retinal pathway. Additionally, we have developed a companion technique for analyzing RGC axon growth in vitro
. We electroporate embryonic heads ex vivo, collect and incubate the whole retina, then prepare explants from these retinae several days later. Retinal explants can be used in a variety of in vitro assays in order to examine the response of electroporated RGC axons to guidance cues or other factors. In sum, this set of techniques enhances our ability to misexpress or downregulate genes in RGCs and should greatly aid studies examining RGC development and axon projections.
Neuroscience, Developmental Biology, Issue 31, retinal ganglion cells, electroporation, retinal explants, gene transfection, border assays, in utero, ex vivo
Viral Tracing of Genetically Defined Neural Circuitry
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Harvard Medical School.
Classical methods for studying neuronal circuits are fairly low throughput. Transsynaptic viruses, particularly the pseudorabies (PRV) and rabies virus (RABV), and more recently vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), for studying circuitry, is becoming increasingly popular. These higher throughput methods use viruses that transmit between neurons in either the anterograde or retrograde direction.
Recently, a modified RABV for monosynaptic retrograde tracing was developed. (Figure 1A
). In this method, the glycoprotein (G) gene is deleted from the viral genome, and resupplied only in targeted neurons. Infection specificity is achieved by substituting a chimeric G, composed of the extracellular domain of the ASLV-A glycoprotein and the cytoplasmic domain of the RABV-G (A/RG), for the normal RABV-G1
. This chimeric G specifically infects cells expressing the TVA receptor1
. The gene encoding TVA can been delivered by various methods2-8
. Following RABV-G infection of a TVA-expressing neuron, the RABV can transmit to other, synaptically connected neurons in a retrograde direction by nature of its own G which was co-delivered with the TVA receptor. This technique labels a relatively large number of inputs (5-10%)2
onto a defined cell type, providing a sampling of all of the inputs onto a defined starter cell type.
We recently modified this technique to use VSV as a transsynaptic tracer9
. VSV has several advantages, including the rapidity of gene expression. Here we detail a new viral tracing system using VSV useful for probing microcircuitry with increased resolution. While the original published strategies by Wickersham et al.4
and Beier et al.9
permit labeling of any neurons that project onto initially-infected TVA-expressing-cells, here VSV was engineered to transmit
only to TVA-expressing cells (Figure 1B
). The virus is first pseudotyped with RABV-G to permit infection of neurons downstream of TVA-expressing neurons. After infecting this first population of cells, the virus released can only infect TVA-expressing cells. Because the transsynaptic viral spread is limited to TVA-expressing cells, presence of absence of connectivity from defined cell types can be explored with high resolution. An experimental flow chart of these experiments is shown in Figure 2
. Here we show a model circuit, that of direction-selectivity in the mouse retina. We examine the connectivity of starburst amacrine cells (SACs) to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs).
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Virology, Virus, VSV, transsynaptic tracing, TVA, retrograde, neuron, synapse
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, firstname.lastname@example.org) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
Methods for Experimental Manipulations after Optic Nerve Transection in the Mammalian CNS
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve. The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Viral vectors, plasmids or short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) can also be delivered to the vitreous chamber in order to infect or transfect retinal cells 5-12
. The high tropism of Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) vectors is beneficial to target RGCs, with an infection rate approaching 90% of cells near the injection site 6, 7, 13-15
. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying siRNAs, plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 16-19
or injecting vectors into their target the superior colliculus 10
. This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the injured neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia. RGC apoptosis has a characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a window for experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis. Manipulations that directly target RGCs from the transected optic nerve stump are performed at the time of axotomy, immediately after cutting the nerve. In contrast, when substances are delivered via an intraocular route, they can be injected prior to surgery or within the first 3 days after surgery, preceding the initiation of apoptosis in axotomized RGCs. In the present article, we demonstrate several methods for experimental manipulations after optic nerve transection.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Intraocular Injection, Nerve Stump Transfection, Viral Vector, Short Interfering RNA
Organotypic Culture of Adult Rabbit Retina
Institutions: MGH - Massachusetts General Hospital.
Organotypic culture systems of functional neural tissues are important tools in neurobiological research. Ideally, such a system should be compatible with imaging techniques, genetic manipulation, and electrophysiological recording. Here we present a simple interphase tissue culture system for adult rabbit retina that requires no specialized equipment and very little maintenance. We demonstrate the dissection and incubation of rabbit retina and particle-mediated gene transfer of plasmids encoding GFP or a variety of subcellular markers into retinal ganglion cells. Rabbit retinas cultured this way can be kept alive for up to 6 days with very little changes of the overall anatomical structure or the morphology of individual ganglion- and amacrine cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 3, retina, dissection, neuron, ganglion
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells by Application of Fluoro-Gold on the Surface of Superior Colliculus
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong - HKU.
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) counting is essential to evaluate retinal degeneration especially in glaucoma. Reliable RGC labeling is fundamental for evaluating the effects of any treatment. In rat, about 98% of RGCs is known to project to the contralateral superior colliculus (SC) (Forrester and Peters, 1967). Applying fluoro-gold (FG) on the surface of SC can label almost all the RGCs, so that we can focus on this most vulnerable retinal neuron in glaucoma. FG is taken up by the axon terminals of retinal ganglion cells and bilaterally transported retrogradely to its somas in the retina. Compare with retrograde labeling of RGC by putting FG at stump of transected optic nerve for 2 days, the interference of RGC survival is minimized. Compare with cresyl violet staining that stains RGCs, amacrine cells and endothelium of the blood vessel in the retinal ganglion cell layer, this labeling method is more specific to the RGC. This video describes the method of retrograde labeling of RGC by applying FG on the surface of SC. The surgical procedures include drilling the skull; aspirating the cortex to expose the SC and applying gelatin sponge over entire dorsal surface of SC are shown. Useful tips for avoiding massive intracranial bleeding and aspiration of the SC have been given.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, Retrograde labeling, retinal ganglion cells, ophthalmology research, superior colliculus, experimental glaucoma