BDNF plays an important role in several facets of neuronal survival, differentiation, and function. Structural and functional deficits in axons are increasingly viewed as an early feature of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Huntington’s disease (HD). As yet unclear is the mechanism(s) by which axonal injury is induced. We reported the development of a novel technique to produce biologically active, monobiotinylated BDNF (mBtBDNF) that can be used to trace axonal transport of BDNF. Quantum dot-labeled BDNF (QD-BDNF) was produced by conjugating quantum dot 655 to mBtBDNF. A microfluidic device was used to isolate axons from neuron cell bodies. Addition of QD-BDNF to the axonal compartment allowed live imaging of BDNF transport in axons. We demonstrated that QD-BDNF moved essentially exclusively retrogradely, with very few pauses, at a moving velocity of around 1.06 μm/sec. This system can be used to investigate mechanisms of disrupted axonal function in AD or HD, as well as other degenerative disorders.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Imaging Dendritic Spines of Rat Primary Hippocampal Neurons using Structured Illumination Microscopy
Institutions: University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam.
Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm.
Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro
, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Dendritic Spine, Microscopy, Confocal, Fluorescence, Neurosciences, hippocampus, primary neuron, super resolution microscopy, structured illumination microscopy (SIM), neuroscience, dendrite
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
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
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
Profiling Voltage-gated Potassium Channel mRNA Expression in Nigral Neurons using Single-cell RT-PCR Techniques
Institutions: University of Tennessee College of Medicine.
In mammalian central nervous system, different types of neurons with diverse molecular and functional characteristics are intermingled with each other, difficult to separate and also not easily identified by their morphology. Thus, it is often difficult to analyze gene expression in a specific neuron type. Here we document a procedure that combines whole-cell patch clamp recording techniques with single-cell reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (scRT-PCR) to profile mRNA expression in different types of neurons in the substantial nigra. Electrophysiological techniques are first used to record the neurophysiological and functional properties of individual neurons. Then, the cytoplasm of single electrophysiologically characterized nigral neurons is aspirated and subjected to scRT-PCR analysis to obtain mRNA expression profiles for neurotransmitter synthesis enzymes, receptors, and ion channels. The high selectivity and sensitivity make this method particularly useful when immunohistochemistry can not be used due to a lack of suitable antibody or low expression level of the protein. This method is also applicable to neurons in other brain areas.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, action potential, mRNA, patch clamp, single cell RT-PCR, PCR, substantia nigra
Neuromodulation and Mitochondrial Transport: Live Imaging in Hippocampal Neurons over Long Durations
Institutions: The Neurosciences Institute.
To understand the relationship between mitochondrial transport and neuronal function, it is critical to observe mitochondrial behavior in live cultured neurons for extended durations1-3
. This is now possible through the use of vital dyes and fluorescent proteins with which cytoskeletal components, organelles, and other structures in living cells can be labeled and then visualized via dynamic fluorescence microscopy. For example, in embryonic chicken sympathetic neurons, mitochondrial movement was characterized using the vital dye rhodamine 1234
. In another study, mitochondria were visualized in rat forebrain neurons by transfection of mitochondrially targeted eYFP5
. However, imaging of primary neurons over minutes, hours, or even days presents a number of issues. Foremost among these are: 1) maintenance of culture conditions such as temperature, humidity, and pH during long imaging sessions; 2) a strong, stable fluorescent signal to assure both the quality of acquired images and accurate measurement of signal intensity during image analysis; and 3) limiting exposure times during image acquisition to minimize photobleaching and avoid phototoxicity.
Here, we describe a protocol that permits the observation, visualization, and analysis of mitochondrial movement in cultured hippocampal neurons with high temporal resolution and under optimal life support conditions. We have constructed an affordable stage-top incubator that provides good temperature regulation and atmospheric gas flow, and also limits the degree of media evaporation, assuring stable pH and osmolarity. This incubator is connected, via inlet and outlet hoses, to a standard tissue culture incubator, which provides constant humidity levels and an atmosphere of 5-10% CO2
/air. This design offers a cost-effective alternative to significantly more expensive microscope incubators that don't necessarily assure the viability of cells over many hours or even days. To visualize mitochondria, we infect cells with a lentivirus encoding a red fluorescent protein that is targeted to the mitochondrion. This assures a strong and persistent signal, which, in conjunction with the use of a stable xenon light source, allows us to limit exposure times during image acquisition and all but precludes photobleaching and phototoxicity. Two injection ports on the top of the stage-top incubator allow the acute administration of neurotransmitters and other reagents intended to modulate mitochondrial movement. In sum, lentivirus-mediated expression of an organelle-targeted red fluorescent protein and the combination of our stage-top incubator, a conventional inverted fluorescence microscope, CCD camera, and xenon light source allow us to acquire time-lapse images of mitochondrial transport in living neurons over longer durations than those possible in studies deploying conventional vital dyes and off-the-shelf life support systems.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, Mitochondria, Transport, Neuromodulation, Hippocampal neuron, Serotonin, Dopamine, Fluorescence, Time-lapse, Live imaging, Stage-top incubator
Visualizing RNA Localization in Xenopus Oocytes
Institutions: Brown University.
RNA localization is a conserved mechanism of establishing cell polarity. Vg1 mRNA localizes to the vegetal pole of Xenopus laevis
oocytes and acts to spatially restrict gene expression of Vg1 protein. Tight control of Vg1 distribution in this manner is required for proper germ layer specification in the developing embryo. RNA sequence elements in the 3' UTR of the mRNA, the Vg1 localization element (VLE) are required and sufficient to direct transport. To study the recognition and transport of Vg1 mRNA in vivo
, we have developed an imaging technique that allows extensive analysis of trans-factor directed transport mechanisms via a simple visual readout.
To visualize RNA localization, we synthesize fluorescently labeled VLE RNA and microinject this transcript into individual oocytes. After oocyte culture to allow transport of the injected RNA, oocytes are fixed and dehydrated prior to imaging by confocal microscopy. Visualization of mRNA localization patterns provides a readout for monitoring the complete pathway of RNA transport and for identifying roles in directing RNA transport for cis-acting elements within the transcript and trans-acting factors that bind to the VLE (Lewis et al., 2008, Messitt et al., 2008). We have extended this technique through co-localization with additional RNAs and proteins (Gagnon and Mowry, 2009, Messitt et al., 2008), and in combination with disruption of motor proteins and the cytoskeleton (Messitt et al., 2008) to probe mechanisms underlying mRNA localization.
Developmental Biology, Issue 35, RNA, Developmental Biology, Microinjection, RNA Localization, Xenopus, oocytes, VLE
Imaging Analysis of Neuron to Glia Interaction in Microfluidic Culture Platform (MCP)-based Neuronal Axon and Glia Co-culture System
Institutions: Tufts University, Tufts Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.
Proper neuron to glia interaction is critical to physiological function of the central nervous system (CNS). This bidirectional communication is sophisticatedly mediated by specific signaling pathways between neuron and glia1,2
. Identification and characterization of these signaling pathways is essential to the understanding of how neuron to glia interaction shapes CNS physiology. Previously, neuron and glia mixed cultures have been widely utilized for testing and characterizing signaling pathways between neuron and glia. What we have learned from these preparations and other in vivo
tools, however, has suggested that mutual signaling between neuron and glia often occurred in specific compartments within neurons (i.e.
, axon, dendrite, or soma)3
. This makes it important to develop a new culture system that allows separation of neuronal compartments and specifically examines the interaction between glia and neuronal axons/dendrites. In addition, the conventional mixed culture system is not capable of differentiating the soluble factors and direct membrane contact signals between neuron and glia. Furthermore, the large quantity of neurons and glial cells in the conventional co-culture system lacks the resolution necessary to observe the interaction between a single axon and a glial cell.
In this study, we describe a novel axon and glia co-culture system with the use of a microfluidic culture platform (MCP). In this co-culture system, neurons and glial cells are cultured in two separate chambers that are connected through multiple central channels. In this microfluidic culture platform, only neuronal processes (especially axons) can enter the glial side through the central channels. In combination with powerful fluorescent protein labeling, this system allows direct examination of signaling pathways between axonal/dendritic and glial interactions, such as axon-mediated transcriptional regulation in glia, glia-mediated receptor trafficking in neuronal terminals, and glia-mediated axon growth. The narrow diameter of the chamber also significantly prohibits the flow of the neuron-enriched medium into the glial chamber, facilitating probing of the direct membrane-protein interaction between axons/dendrites and glial surfaces.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Microfluidics, Microfluidic culture platform, Compartmented culture, Neuron to glia signaling, neurons, glia, cell culture
Live Cell Imaging of Alphaherpes Virus Anterograde Transport and Spread
Institutions: Montana State University, Princeton University.
Advances in live cell fluorescence microscopy techniques, as well as the construction of recombinant viral strains that express fluorescent fusion proteins have enabled real-time visualization of transport and spread of alphaherpes virus infection of neurons. The utility of novel fluorescent fusion proteins to viral membrane, tegument, and capsids, in conjunction with live cell imaging, identified viral particle assemblies undergoing transport within axons. Similar tools have been successfully employed for analyses of cell-cell spread of viral particles to quantify the number and diversity of virions transmitted between cells. Importantly, the techniques of live cell imaging of anterograde transport and spread produce a wealth of information including particle transport velocities, distributions of particles, and temporal analyses of protein localization. Alongside classical viral genetic techniques, these methodologies have provided critical insights into important mechanistic questions. In this article we describe in detail the imaging methods that were developed to answer basic questions of alphaherpes virus transport and spread.
Virology, Issue 78, Infection, Immunology, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Genetics, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Neurobiology, Herpes virus, fluorescent protein, epifluorescent microscopy, neuronal culture, axon, virion, video microscopy, virus, live cell, imaging
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
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Isolation of mRNAs Associated with Yeast Mitochondria to Study Mechanisms of Localized Translation
Institutions: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.
Most of mitochondrial proteins are encoded in the nucleus and need to be imported into the organelle. Import may occur while the protein is synthesized near the mitochondria. Support for this possibility is derived from recent studies, in which many mRNAs encoding mitochondrial proteins were shown to be localized to the mitochondria vicinity. Together with earlier demonstrations of ribosomes’ association with the outer membrane, these results suggest a localized translation process. Such localized translation may improve import efficiency, provide unique regulation sites and minimize cases of ectopic expression. Diverse methods have been used to characterize the factors and elements that mediate localized translation. Standard among these is subcellular fractionation by differential centrifugation. This protocol has the advantage of isolation of mRNAs, ribosomes and proteins in a single procedure. These can then be characterized by various molecular and biochemical methods. Furthermore, transcriptomics and proteomics methods can be applied to the resulting material, thereby allow genome-wide insights. The utilization of yeast as a model organism for such studies has the advantages of speed, costs and simplicity. Furthermore, the advanced genetic tools and available deletion strains facilitate verification of candidate factors.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, mitochondria, mRNA localization, Yeast, S. cerevisiae, microarray, localized translation, biochemical fractionation
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),
Characterizing the Composition of Molecular Motors on Moving Axonal Cargo Using "Cargo Mapping" Analysis
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, University of California San Diego, University of California San Diego, University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Understanding the mechanisms by which molecular motors coordinate their activities to transport vesicular cargoes within neurons requires the quantitative analysis of motor/cargo associations at the single vesicle level. The goal of this protocol is to use quantitative fluorescence microscopy to correlate (“map”) the position and directionality of movement of live cargo to the composition and relative amounts of motors associated with the same cargo. “Cargo mapping” consists of live imaging of fluorescently labeled cargoes moving in axons cultured on microfluidic devices, followed by chemical fixation during recording of live movement, and subsequent immunofluorescence (IF) staining of the exact same axonal regions with antibodies against motors. Colocalization between cargoes and their associated motors is assessed by assigning sub-pixel position coordinates to motor and cargo channels, by fitting Gaussian functions to the diffraction-limited point spread functions representing individual fluorescent point sources. Fixed cargo and motor images are subsequently superimposed to plots of cargo movement, to “map” them to their tracked trajectories. The strength of this protocol is the combination of live and IF data to record both the transport of vesicular cargoes in live cells and to determine the motors associated to these exact same vesicles. This technique overcomes previous challenges that use biochemical methods to determine the average motor composition of purified heterogeneous bulk vesicle populations, as these methods do not reveal compositions on single moving cargoes. Furthermore, this protocol can be adapted for the analysis of other transport and/or trafficking pathways in other cell types to correlate the movement of individual intracellular structures with their protein composition. Limitations of this protocol are the relatively low throughput due to low transfection efficiencies of cultured primary neurons and a limited field of view available for high-resolution imaging. Future applications could include methods to increase the number of neurons expressing fluorescently labeled cargoes.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, kinesin, dynein, single vesicle, axonal transport, microfluidic devices, primary hippocampal neurons, quantitative fluorescence microscopy
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
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
Simple Microfluidic Devices for in vivo Imaging of C. elegans, Drosophila and Zebrafish
Institutions: NCBS-TIFR, TIFR.
Micro fabricated fluidic devices provide an accessible micro-environment for in vivo
studies on small organisms. Simple fabrication processes are available for microfluidic devices using soft lithography techniques 1-3
. Microfluidic devices have been used for sub-cellular imaging 4,5
, in vivo
laser microsurgery 2,6
and cellular imaging 4,7
. In vivo
imaging requires immobilization of organisms. This has been achieved using suction 5,8
, tapered channels 6,7,9
, deformable membranes 2-4,10
, suction with additional cooling 5
, anesthetic gas 11
, temperature sensitive gels 12
, cyanoacrylate glue 13
and anesthetics such as levamisole 14,15
. Commonly used anesthetics influence synaptic transmission 16,17
and are known to have detrimental effects on sub-cellular neuronal transport 4
. In this study we demonstrate a membrane based poly-dimethyl-siloxane (PDMS) device that allows anesthetic free immobilization of intact genetic model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans
larvae and zebrafish larvae. These model organisms are suitable for in vivo
studies in microfluidic devices because of their small diameters and optically transparent or translucent bodies. Body diameters range from ~10 μm to ~800 μm for early larval stages of C. elegans
and zebrafish larvae and require microfluidic devices of different sizes to achieve complete immobilization for high resolution time-lapse imaging. These organisms are immobilized using pressure applied by compressed nitrogen gas through a liquid column and imaged using an inverted microscope. Animals released from the trap return to normal locomotion within 10 min.
We demonstrate four applications of time-lapse imaging in C. elegans
namely, imaging mitochondrial transport in neurons, pre-synaptic vesicle transport in a transport-defective mutant, glutamate receptor transport and Q neuroblast cell division. Data obtained from such movies show that microfluidic immobilization is a useful and accurate means of acquiring in vivo
data of cellular and sub-cellular events when compared to anesthetized animals (Figure 1J
and 3C-F 4
Device dimensions were altered to allow time-lapse imaging of different stages of C. elegans
, first instar Drosophila
larvae and zebrafish larvae. Transport of vesicles marked with synaptotagmin tagged with GFP (syt.eGFP) in sensory neurons shows directed motion of synaptic vesicle markers expressed in cholinergic sensory neurons in intact first instar Drosophila
larvae. A similar device has been used to carry out time-lapse imaging of heartbeat in ~30 hr post fertilization (hpf) zebrafish larvae. These data show that the simple devices we have developed can be applied to a variety of model systems to study several cell biological and developmental phenomena in vivo
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience, Microfluidics, C. elegans, Drosophila larvae, zebrafish larvae, anesthetic, pre-synaptic vesicle transport, dendritic transport of glutamate receptors, mitochondrial transport, synaptotagmin transport, heartbeat
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
Visualization of Endoplasmic Reticulum Localized mRNAs in Mammalian Cells
Institutions: University of Toronto.
In eukaryotes, most of the messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that encode secreted and membrane proteins are localized to the surface of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). However, the visualization of these mRNAs can be challenging. This is especially true when only a fraction of the mRNA is ER-associated and their distribution to this organelle is obstructed by non-targeted (i.e.
"free") transcripts. In order to monitor ER-associated mRNAs, we have developed a method in which cells are treated with a short exposure to a digitonin extraction solution that selectively permeabilizes the plasma membrane, and thus removes the cytoplasmic contents, while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the ER. When this method is coupled with fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH), one can clearly visualize ER-bound mRNAs by fluorescent microscopy. Using this protocol the degree of ER-association for either bulk poly(A) transcripts or specific mRNAs can be assessed and even quantified. In the process, one can use this assay to investigate the nature of mRNA-ER interactions.
Cellular Biology, Issue 70, Biochemistry, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Genomics, mRNA localization, RNA, digitonin extraction, cell fractionation, endoplasmic reticulum, secretion, microscopy, imaging, fluorescent in situ hybridization, FISH, cell biology
Live Imaging of Dense-core Vesicles in Primary Cultured Hippocampal Neurons
Institutions: Simon Fraser University.
Observing and characterizing dynamic cellular processes can yield important information about cellular activity that cannot be gained from static images. Vital fluorescent probes, particularly green fluorescent protein (GFP) have revolutionized cell biology stemming from the ability to label specific intracellular compartments and cellular structures. For example, the live imaging of GFP (and its spectral variants) chimeras have allowed for a dynamic
analysis of the cytoskeleton, organelle transport, and membrane dynamics in a multitude of organisms and cell types [1-3]. Although live imaging has become prevalent, this approach still poses many technical challenges, particularly in primary cultured neurons. One challenge is the expression of GFP-tagged proteins in post-mitotic neurons; the other is the ability to capture fluorescent images while minimizing phototoxicity, photobleaching,
and maintaining general cell health. Here we provide a protocol that describes a lipid-based transfection method that yields a relatively low transfection rate (~0.5%), however is ideal for the imaging of fully polarized neurons. A low transfection rate is essential so that single axons and dendrites can be characterized as to their orientation to the cell body to confirm directionality of transport, i.e., anterograde v. retrograde. Our approach to imaging
GFP expressing neurons relies on a standard wide-field fluorescent microscope outfitted with a CCD camera, image capture software, and a heated imaging chamber. We have imaged a wide variety of organelles or structures, for example, dense-core vesicles, mitochondria, growth cones, and actin without any special optics or excitation requirements other than a fluorescent light source. Additionally, spectrally-distinct, fluorescently
labeled proteins, e.g., GFP and dsRed-tagged proteins, can be visualized near simultaneously to characterize co-transport or other coordinated cellular events. The imaging approach described here is flexible for a variety of imaging applications and can be adopted by a laboratory for relatively little cost provided a microscope is available.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, Live cell imaging, intracellular transport, membrane-bound organelles, green fluorescent protein, hippocampal neurons, transfection, fluorescence microscopy
Purification of Mitochondria from Yeast Cells
Institutions: Concordia University.
Mitochondria are the main site of ATP production during aerobic metabolism in eukaryotic non-photosynthetic cells1
. These complex organelles also play essential roles in apoptotic cell death2
, cell survival3
, mammalian development4
, neuronal development and function4
, intracellular signalling5
, and longevity regulation6
. Our understanding of these complex biological processes controlled by mitochondria relies on robust methods for assessing their morphology, their protein and lipid composition, the integrity of their DNA, and their numerous vital functions. The budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae
, a genetically and biochemically manipulable unicellular eukaryote with annotated genome and well-defined proteome, is a valuable model for studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying essential biological functions of mitochondria. For these types of studies, it is crucial to have highly pure mitochondria. Here we present a detailed description of a rapid and effective method for purification of yeast mitochondria. This method enables the isolation of highly pure mitochondria that are essentially free of contamination by other organelles and retain their structural and functional integrity after their purification. Mitochondria purified by this method are suitable for cell-free reconstitution of essential mitochondrial processes and can be used for the analysis of mitochondrial structure and functions, mitochondrial proteome and lipidome, and mitochondrial DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 30, subcellular fractionation, organelles, organelle purification, mitochondria
In vivo Visualization of Synaptic Vesicles Within Drosophila Larval Segmental Axons
Institutions: SUNY-University at Buffalo.
Elucidating the mechanisms of axonal transport has shown to be very important in determining how defects in long distance transport affect different neurological diseases. Defects in this essential process can have detrimental effects on neuronal functioning and development. We have developed a dissection protocol that is designed to expose the Drosophila
larval segmental nerves to view axonal transport in real time. We have adapted this protocol for live imaging from the one published by Hurd and Saxton (1996) used for immunolocalizatin of larval segmental nerves. Careful dissection and proper buffer conditions are critical for maximizing the lifespan of the dissected larvae. When properly done, dissected larvae have shown robust vesicle transport for 2-3 hours under physiological conditions. We use the UAS-GAL4 method 1
to express GFP-tagged APP or synaptotagmin vesicles within a single axon or many axons in larval segmental nerves by using different neuronal GAL4 drivers. Other fluorescently tagged markers, for example mitochrondria (MitoTracker) or lysosomes (LysoTracker), can be also applied to the larvae before viewing. GFP-vesicle movement and particle movement can be viewed simultaneously using separate wavelengths.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Live imaging, Axonal transport, GFP-tagged vesicles