Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Patient-specific Modeling of the Heart: Estimation of Ventricular Fiber Orientations
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Patient-specific simulations of heart (dys)function aimed at personalizing cardiac therapy are hampered by the absence of in vivo
imaging technology for clinically acquiring myocardial fiber orientations. The objective of this project was to develop a methodology to estimate cardiac fiber orientations from in vivo
images of patient heart geometries. An accurate representation of ventricular geometry and fiber orientations was reconstructed, respectively, from high-resolution ex vivo structural magnetic resonance (MR) and diffusion tensor (DT) MR images of a normal human heart, referred to as the atlas. Ventricular geometry of a patient heart was extracted, via
semiautomatic segmentation, from an in vivo
computed tomography (CT) image. Using image transformation algorithms, the atlas ventricular geometry was deformed to match that of the patient. Finally, the deformation field was applied to the atlas fiber orientations to obtain an estimate of patient fiber orientations. The accuracy of the fiber estimates was assessed using six normal and three failing canine hearts. The mean absolute difference between inclination angles of acquired and estimated fiber orientations was 15.4 °. Computational simulations of ventricular activation maps and pseudo-ECGs in sinus rhythm and ventricular tachycardia indicated that there are no significant differences between estimated and acquired fiber orientations at a clinically observable level.The new insights obtained from the project will pave the way for the development of patient-specific models of the heart that can aid physicians in personalized diagnosis and decisions regarding electrophysiological interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 71, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Myocytes, Cardiac, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cardiac Electrophysiology, computerized simulation (general), mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Cardiomyocyte, biomedical image processing, patient-specific modeling, Electrophysiology, simulation
A Lateralized Odor Learning Model in Neonatal Rats for Dissecting Neural Circuitry Underpinning Memory Formation
Institutions: Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, University of Victoria.
Rat pups during a critical postnatal period (≤ 10 days) readily form a preference for an odor that is associated with stimuli mimicking maternal care. Such a preference memory can last from hours, to days, even life-long, depending on training parameters. Early odor preference learning provides us with a model in which the critical changes for a natural form of learning occur in the olfactory circuitry. An additional feature that makes it a powerful tool for the analysis of memory processes is that early odor preference learning can be lateralized via
single naris occlusion within the critical period. This is due to the lack of mature anterior commissural connections of the olfactory hemispheres at this early age. This work outlines behavioral protocols for lateralized odor learning using nose plugs. Acute, reversible naris occlusion minimizes tissue and neuronal damages associated with long-term occlusion and more aggressive methods such as cauterization. The lateralized odor learning model permits within-animal comparison, therefore greatly reducing variance compared to between-animal designs. This method has been used successfully to probe the circuit changes in the olfactory system produced by training. Future directions include exploring molecular underpinnings of odor memory using this lateralized learning model; and correlating physiological change with memory strength and durations.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, lateralized odor learning, rats, memory, nose plug, olfactory bulb, piriform cortex, phosphorylated CREB
Characterization of Recombination Effects in a Liquid Ionization Chamber Used for the Dosimetry of a Radiosurgical Accelerator
Institutions: Centre Oscar Lambret.
Most modern radiation therapy devices allow the use of very small fields, either through beamlets in Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) or via stereotactic radiotherapy where positioning accuracy allows delivering very high doses per fraction in a small volume of the patient. Dosimetric measurements on medical accelerators are conventionally realized using air-filled ionization chambers. However, in small beams these are subject to nonnegligible perturbation effects. This study focuses on liquid ionization chambers, which offer advantages in terms of spatial resolution and low fluence perturbation. Ion recombination effects are investigated for the microLion detector (PTW) used with the Cyberknife system (Accuray). The method consists of performing a series of water tank measurements at different source-surface distances, and applying corrections to the liquid detector readings based on simultaneous gaseous detector measurements. This approach facilitates isolating the recombination effects arising from the high density of the liquid sensitive medium and obtaining correction factors to apply to the detector readings. The main difficulty resides in achieving a sufficient level of accuracy in the setup to be able to detect small changes in the chamber response.
Physics, Issue 87, Radiation therapy, dosimetry, small fields, Cyberknife, liquid ionization, recombination effects
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
Simultaneous Pre- and Post-synaptic Electrophysiological Recording from Xenopus Nerve-muscle Co-cultures
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Pepperdine University.
Much information about the coupling of presynaptic ionic currents with the release of neurotransmitter has been obtained from invertebrate preparations, most notably the squid giant synapse1
. However, except for the preparation described here, few vertebrate preparations exist in which it is possible to make simultaneous measurements of neurotransmitter release and presynaptic ionic currents. Embryonic Xenopus
motoneurons and muscle cells can be grown together in simple culture medium at room temperature; they will form functional synapses within twelve to twenty-four hours, and can be used to study nerve and muscle cell development and synaptic interactions for several days (until overgrowth occurs). Some advantages of these co-cultures over other vertebrate preparations include the simplicity of preparation, the ability to maintain the cultures and work at room temperature, and the ready accessibility of the synapses formed2-4
. The preparation has been used widely to study the biophysical properties of presynaptic ion channels and the regulation of transmitter release5-8
. In addition, the preparation has lent itself to other uses including the study of neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis9-12
, molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter release13-15
, the role of diffusible messengers in neuromodulation16,17
, and in vitro
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biophysics, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Electrophysiology, Neurophysiology, Xenopus, patch clamp, primary culture, embryo, synapses, synaptogenesis, synaptic currents, neurotransmitter release, varicosity, neurite guidance, neurons, motoneurons, cell culture, microdisection, animal model
Presynaptically Silent Synapses Studied with Light Microscopy
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
Synaptic plasticity likely underlies the nervous system's ability to learn and remember and may also represent an adaptability that prevents otherwise damaging insults from becoming neurotoxic. We have been studying a form of presynaptic plasticity that is interesting in part because it is expressed as a digital switching on and off of a presynaptic terminal s ability to release vesicles containing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Here we demonstrate a protocol for visualizing the activity status of presynaptic terminals in dissociated cell cultures prepared from the rodent hippocampus. The method relies on detecting active synapses using staining with a fixable form of the styryl dye FM1-43, commonly used to label synaptic vesicles. This staining profile is compared with immunostaining of the same terminals with an antibody directed against the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT-1), a stain designed to label all glutamate synapses regardless of activation status. We find that depolarizing stimuli induce presynaptic silencing. The population of synapses that is silent under baseline conditions can be activated by prolonged electrical silencing or by activation of cAMP signaling pathways.
Neurobiology, Issue 35, glutamate, synaptic plasticity, cAMP, excitotoxicity, homeostasis, FM1-43, presynaptic plasticity
Automated Quantification of Synaptic Fluorescence in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Toledo .
Synapse strength refers to the amplitude of postsynaptic responses to presynaptic neurotransmitter release events, and has a major impact on overall neural circuit function. Synapse strength critically depends on the abundance of neurotransmitter receptors clustered at synaptic sites on the postsynaptic membrane. Receptor levels are established developmentally, and can be altered by receptor trafficking between surface-localized, subsynaptic, and intracellular pools, representing important mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation. Rigorous methods to quantify synaptically-localized neurotransmitter receptor abundance are essential to study synaptic development and plasticity. Fluorescence microscopy is an optimal approach because it preserves spatial information, distinguishing synaptic from non-synaptic pools, and discriminating among receptor populations localized to different types of synapses. The genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans
is particularly well suited for these studies due to the small size and relative simplicity of its nervous system, its transparency, and the availability of powerful genetic techniques, allowing examination of native synapses in intact animals.
Here we present a method for quantifying fluorescently-labeled synaptic neurotransmitter receptors in C. elegans
. Its key feature is the automated identification and analysis of individual synapses in three dimensions in multi-plane confocal microscope output files, tabulating position, volume, fluorescence intensity, and total fluorescence for each synapse. This approach has two principal advantages over manual analysis of z-plane projections of confocal data. First, because every plane of the confocal data set is included, no data are lost through z-plane projection, typically based on pixel intensity averages or maxima. Second, identification of synapses is automated, but can be inspected by the experimenter as the data analysis proceeds, allowing fast and accurate extraction of data from large numbers of synapses. Hundreds to thousands of synapses per sample can easily be obtained, producing large data sets to maximize statistical power. Considerations for preparing C. elegans
for analysis, and performing confocal imaging to minimize variability between animals within treatment groups are also discussed. Although developed to analyze C. elegans
postsynaptic receptors, this method is generally useful for any type of synaptically-localized protein, or indeed, any fluorescence signal that is localized to discrete clusters, puncta, or organelles.
The procedure is performed in three steps: 1) preparation of samples, 2) confocal imaging, and 3) image analysis. Steps 1 and 2 are specific to C. elegans
, while step 3 is generally applicable to any punctate fluorescence signal in confocal micrographs.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Developmental Biology, Neurotransmitter receptors, quantification, confocal microscopy, immunostaining, fluorescence, Volocity, UNC-49 GABA receptors, C. elegans
Creating Dynamic Images of Short-lived Dopamine Fluctuations with lp-ntPET: Dopamine Movies of Cigarette Smoking
Institutions: Yale University, Yale University, Yale University, Yale University, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California, Irvine.
We describe experimental and statistical steps for creating dopamine movies of the brain from dynamic PET data. The movies represent minute-to-minute fluctuations of dopamine induced by smoking a cigarette. The smoker is imaged during a natural smoking experience while other possible confounding effects (such as head motion, expectation, novelty, or aversion to smoking repeatedly) are minimized.
We present the details of our unique analysis. Conventional methods for PET analysis estimate time-invariant kinetic model parameters which cannot capture short-term fluctuations in neurotransmitter release. Our analysis - yielding a dopamine movie - is based on our work with kinetic models and other decomposition techniques that allow for time-varying parameters 1-7
. This aspect of the analysis - temporal-variation - is key to our work. Because our model is also linear in parameters, it is practical, computationally, to apply at the voxel level. The analysis technique is comprised of five main steps: pre-processing, modeling, statistical comparison, masking and visualization. Preprocessing is applied to the PET data with a unique 'HYPR' spatial filter 8
that reduces spatial noise but preserves critical temporal information. Modeling identifies the time-varying function that best describes the dopamine effect on 11
C-raclopride uptake. The statistical step compares the fit of our (lp-ntPET) model 7
to a conventional model 9
. Masking restricts treatment to those voxels best described by the new model. Visualization maps the dopamine function at each voxel to a color scale and produces a dopamine movie. Interim results and sample dopamine movies of cigarette smoking are presented.
Behavior, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Receptors, Dopamine, Dopamine, Functional Neuroimaging, Binding, Competitive, mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Neurotransmission, transient, dopamine release, PET, modeling, linear, time-invariant, smoking, F-test, ventral-striatum, clinical techniques
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2
) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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
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
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: University of Auckland, Stanford University.
Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, hippocampus, paired recording, whole cell recording, organotypic slice, synapse, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Dissecting and Recording from The C. Elegans Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago.
Neurotransmission is the process by which neurons transfer information via chemical signals to their post-synaptic targets, on a rapid time scale. This complex process requires the coordinated activity of many pre- and post-synaptic proteins to ensure appropriate synaptic connectivity, conduction of electrical signals, targeting and priming of secretory vesicles, calcium sensing, vesicle fusion, localization and function of postsynaptic receptors and finally, recycling mechanisms. As neuroscientists it is our goal to elucidate which proteins function in each of these steps and understand their mechanisms of action. Electrophysiological recordings from synapses provide a quantifiable read out of the underlying electrical events that occur during synaptic transmission. By combining this technique with the powerful array of molecular and genetic tools available to manipulate synaptic proteins in C. elegans
, we can analyze the resulting functional changes in synaptic transmission.
The C. elegans
NMJs formed between motor neurons and body wall muscles control locomotion, therefore, mutants with uncoordinated locomotory phenotypes (known as unc
s) often perturb synaptic transmission at these synapses 1
. Since unc
mutants are maintained on a rich supply of a bacterial food source, they remain viable as long as they retain some pharyngeal pumping ability to ingest food. This, together with the fact that C. elegans
exist as hermaphrodites, allows them to pass on mutant progeny without the need for elaborate mating behaviors. These attributes, coupled with our recent ability to record from the worms NMJs 2,3,7
make this an excellent model organism in which to address precisely how unc
mutants impact neurotransmission.
The dissection method involves immobilizing adult worms using a cyanoacrylic glue in order to make an incision in the worm cuticle exposing the NMJs. Since C. elegans
adults are only 1 mm in length the dissection is performed with the use of a dissecting microscope and requires excellent hand-eye coordination. NMJ recordings are made by whole-cell voltage clamping individual body wall muscle cells and neurotransmitter release can be evoked using a variety of stimulation protocols including electrical stimulation, light-activated channel-rhodopsin-mediated depolarization 4
and hyperosmotic saline, all of which will be briefly described.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, Caenorhabditis elegans, electrophysiology, neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission
Paired Patch Clamp Recordings from Motor-neuron and Target Skeletal Muscle in Zebrafish
Institutions: Oregon Health and Sciences University.
Larval zebrafish represent the first vertebrate model system to allow simultaneous patch clamp recording from a spinal motor-neuron and target muscle. This is a direct consequence of the accessibility to both cell types and ability to visually distinguish the single segmental CaP motor-neuron on the basis of morphology and location. This video demonstrates the microscopic methods used to identify a CaP motor-neuron and target muscle cells as well as the methodologies for recording from each cell type. Identification of the CaP motor-neuron type is confirmed by either dye filling or by the biophysical features such as action potential waveform and cell input resistance. Motor-neuron recordings routinely last for one hour permitting long-term recordings from multiple different target muscle cells. Control over the motor-neuron firing pattern enables measurements of the frequency-dependence of synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction. Owing to a large quantal size and the low noise provided by whole cell voltage clamp, all of the unitary events can be resolved in muscle. This feature permits study of basic synaptic properties such as release properties, vesicle recycling, as well as synaptic depression and facilitation. The advantages offered by this in vivo
preparation eclipse previous neuromuscular model systems studied wherein the motor-neurons are usually stimulated by extracellular electrodes and the muscles are too large for whole cell patch clamp. The zebrafish preparation is amenable to combining electrophysiological analysis with a wide range of approaches including transgenic lines, morpholino knockdown, pharmacological intervention and in vivo
imaging. These approaches, coupled with the growing number of neuromuscular disease models provided by mutant lines of zebrafish, open the door for new understanding of human neuromuscular disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Zebrafish, synapse, electrophysiology, patch clamp, acetylcholine receptor, neuromuscular, cholinergic/action potential, myasthenic syndrome, motor control
Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1
The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model