One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, email@example.com) under the ImageJ analysis software platform. The synapse assay described in this protocol can be applied to any neural tissue or culture preparation for which you have selective pre- and postsynaptic markers. This synapse assay is a valuable tool that can be widely utilized in the study of synaptic development.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Optic Nerve Transection: A Model of Adult Neuron Apoptosis in the Central Nervous System
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve.
The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve
transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous
chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals
through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying short interfering RNAs
(siRNAs), plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 5-7
or injecting vectors into their target, the superior colliculus 8
This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the desired neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia.
An additional benefit is the ease and accuracy with which cell survival can be quantified after injury. The retina is a flat, layered tissue and RGCs are localized in
the innermost layer, the ganglion cell layer. The survival of RGCs can be tracked over time by applying a fluorescent tracer (3% Fluorogold) to the cut end of the
optic nerve at the time of axotomy, or by injecting the tracer into the superior colliculus (RGC target) one week prior to axotomy. The tracer is retrogradely transported, labeling
the entire RGC population. Because the ganglion cell layer is a monolayer (one cell thick), RGC densities can be quantified in flat-mounted tissue, without the need
for stereology. Optic nerve transection leads to the apoptotic death of 90% of injured RGCs within 14 days postaxotomy 9-11
. RGC apoptosis has a
characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a time window for
experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis.
Neuroscience, issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retina, Apoptosis, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Rat, Retrograde Labeling, Rat Model
Methods for Experimental Manipulations after Optic Nerve Transection in the Mammalian CNS
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are CNS neurons that output visual information from the retina to the brain, via the optic nerve. The optic nerve can be accessed within the orbit of the eye and completely transected (axotomized), cutting the axons of the entire RGC population. Optic nerve transection is a reproducible model of apoptotic neuronal cell death in the adult CNS 1-4
. This model is particularly attractive because the vitreous chamber of the eye acts as a capsule for drug delivery to the retina, permitting experimental manipulations via intraocular injections. The diffusion of chemicals through the vitreous fluid ensures that they act upon the entire RGC population. Viral vectors, plasmids or short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) can also be delivered to the vitreous chamber in order to infect or transfect retinal cells 5-12
. The high tropism of Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) vectors is beneficial to target RGCs, with an infection rate approaching 90% of cells near the injection site 6, 7, 13-15
. Moreover, RGCs can be selectively transfected by applying siRNAs, plasmids, or viral vectors to the cut end of the optic nerve 16-19
or injecting vectors into their target the superior colliculus 10
. This allows researchers to study apoptotic mechanisms in the injured neuronal population without confounding effects on other bystander neurons or surrounding glia. RGC apoptosis has a characteristic time-course whereby cell death is delayed 3-4 days postaxotomy, after which the cells rapidly degenerate. This provides a window for experimental manipulations directed against pathways involved in apoptosis. Manipulations that directly target RGCs from the transected optic nerve stump are performed at the time of axotomy, immediately after cutting the nerve. In contrast, when substances are delivered via an intraocular route, they can be injected prior to surgery or within the first 3 days after surgery, preceding the initiation of apoptosis in axotomized RGCs. In the present article, we demonstrate several methods for experimental manipulations after optic nerve transection.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Central Nervous System, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Axotomy, Optic Nerve Transection, Intraocular Injection, Nerve Stump Transfection, Viral Vector, Short Interfering RNA
DiI-Labeling of DRG Neurons to Study Axonal Branching in a Whole Mount Preparation of Mouse Embryonic Spinal Cord
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Here we present a technique to label the trajectories of small groups of DRG neurons into the embryonic spinal cord by diffusive staining using the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)1
. The comparison of axonal pathways of wild-type with those of mouse lines in which genes are mutated allows testing for a functional role of candidate proteins in the control of axonal branching which is an essential mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system. Axonal branching enables an individual neuron to connect with multiple targets, thereby providing the physical basis for the parallel processing of information. Ramifications at intermediate target regions of axonal growth may be distinguished from terminal arborization. Furthermore, different modes of axonal branch formation may be classified depending on whether branching results from the activities of the growth cone (splitting or delayed branching) or from the budding of collaterals from the axon shaft in a process called interstitial branching2
The central projections of neurons from the DRG offer a useful experimental system to study both types of axonal branching: when their afferent axons reach the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) of the spinal cord between embryonic days 10 to 13 (E10 - E13) they display a stereotyped pattern of T- or Y-shaped bifurcation. The two resulting daughter axons then proceed in rostral or caudal directions, respectively, at the dorsolateral margin of the cord and only after a waiting period collaterals sprout from these stem axons to penetrate the gray matter (interstitial branching) and project to relay neurons in specific laminae of the spinal cord where they further arborize (terminal branching)3
. DiI tracings have revealed growth cones at the dorsal root entry zone of the spinal cord that appeared to be in the process of splitting suggesting that bifurcation is caused by splitting of the growth cone itself4
), however, other options have been discussed as well5
This video demonstrates first how to dissect the spinal cord of E12.5 mice leaving the DRG attached. Following fixation of the specimen tiny amounts of DiI are applied to DRG using glass needles pulled from capillary tubes. After an incubation step, the labeled spinal cord is mounted as an inverted open-book preparation to analyze individual axons using fluorescence microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, neurons, axonal branching, DRG, Spinal cord, DiI labeling, cGMP signaling
An In-vitro Preparation of Isolated Enteric Neurons and Glia from the Myenteric Plexus of the Adult Mouse
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
The enteric nervous system is a vast network of neurons and glia running the length of the gastrointestinal tract that functionally controls gastrointestinal motility. A procedure for the isolation and culture of a mixed population of neurons and glia from the myenteric plexus is described. The primary cultures can be maintained for over 7 days, with connections developing among the neurons and glia. The longitudinal muscle strip with the attached myenteric plexus is stripped from the underlying circular muscle of the mouse ileum or colon and subjected to enzymatic digestion. In sterile conditions, the isolated neuronal and glia population are preserved within the pellet following centrifugation and plated on coverslips. Within 24-48 hr, neurite outgrowth occurs and neurons can be identified by pan-neuronal markers. After two days in culture, isolated neurons fire action potentials as observed by patch clamp studies. Furthermore, enteric glia can also be identified by GFAP staining. A network of neurons and glia in close apposition forms within 5 - 7 days. Enteric neurons can be individually and directly studied using methods such as immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and single-cell PCR. Furthermore, this procedure can be performed in genetically modified animals. This methodology is simple to perform and inexpensive. Overall, this protocol exposes the components of the enteric nervous system in an easily manipulated manner so that we may better discover the functionality of the ENS in normal and disease states.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Pharmacology, Myenteric Plexus, Digestive System, Neurosciences, Enteric nervous system, culture, mouse, patch clamp, action potential, gastrointestinal neuropathies, neurons, glia, tissue, cell culture, animal model
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
Imaging pHluorin-tagged Receptor Insertion to the Plasma Membrane in Primary Cultured Mouse Neurons
Institutions: The Jackson Laboratory.
A better understanding of the mechanisms governing receptor trafficking between the plasma membrane (PM) and intracellular compartments requires an experimental approach with excellent spatial and temporal resolutions. Moreover, such an approach must also have the ability to distinguish receptors localized on the PM from those in intracellular compartments. Most importantly, detecting receptors in a single vesicle requires outstanding detection sensitivity, since each vesicle carries only a small number of receptors. Standard approaches for examining receptor trafficking include surface biotinylation followed by biochemical detection, which lacks both the necessary spatial and temporal resolutions; and fluorescence microscopy examination of immunolabeled surface receptors, which requires chemical fixation of cells and therefore lacks sufficient temporal resolution1-6
. To overcome these limitations, we and others have developed and employed a new strategy that enables visualization of the dynamic insertion of receptors into the PM with excellent spatial and temporal resolutions 7-17
. The approach includes tagging of a pH-sensitive GFP, the superecliptic pHluorin 18
, to the N-terminal extracellular domain of the receptors. Superecliptic pHluorin has the unique property of being fluorescent at neutral pH and non-fluorescent at acidic pH (pH < 6.0). Therefore, the tagged receptors are non-fluorescent when within the acidic lumen of intracellular trafficking vesicles or endosomal compartments, and they become readily visualized only when exposed to the extracellular neutral pH environment, on the outer surface of the PM. Our strategy consequently allows us to distinguish PM surface receptors from those within intracellular trafficking vesicles. To attain sufficient spatial and temporal resolutions, as well as the sensitivity required to study dynamic trafficking of receptors, we employed total internal reflection fluorescent microscopy (TIRFM), which enabled us to achieve the optimal spatial resolution of optical imaging (~170 nm), the temporal resolution of video-rate microscopy (30 frames/sec), and the sensitivity to detect fluorescence of a single GFP molecule. By imaging pHluorin-tagged receptors under TIRFM, we were able to directly visualize individual receptor insertion events into the PM in cultured neurons. This imaging approach can potentially be applied to any membrane protein with an extracellular domain that could be labeled with superecliptic pHluorin, and will allow dissection of the key detailed mechanisms governing insertion of different membrane proteins (receptors, ion channels, transporters, etc.) to the PM.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Medicine, primary cultured mouse neuron, superecliptic pHluorin, receptor, plasma membrane insertion, total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, neurons, mice, pHlourin-tagged, plasma membrane
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),
Simulating Pancreatic Neuroplasticity: In Vitro Dual-neuron Plasticity Assay
Institutions: Technische Universität München, University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern/Zweibrücken.
Neuroplasticity is an inherent feature of the enteric nervous system and gastrointestinal (GI) innervation under pathological conditions. However, the pathophysiological role of neuroplasticity in GI disorders remains unknown. Novel experimental models which allow simulation and modulation of GI neuroplasticity may enable enhanced appreciation of the contribution of neuroplasticity in particular GI diseases such as pancreatic cancer (PCa) and chronic pancreatitis (CP). Here, we present a protocol for simulation of pancreatic neuroplasticity under in vitro
conditions using newborn rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and myenteric plexus (MP) neurons. This dual-neuron approach not only permits monitoring of both organ-intrinsic and -extrinsic neuroplasticity, but also represents a valuable tool to assess neuronal and glial morphology and electrophysiology. Moreover, it allows functional modulation of supplied microenvironmental contents for studying their impact on neuroplasticity. Once established, the present neuroplasticity assay bears the potential of being applicable to the study of neuroplasticity in any GI organ.
Medicine, Issue 86, Autonomic Nervous System Diseases, Digestive System Neoplasms, Gastrointestinal Diseases, Pancreatic Diseases, Pancreatic Neoplasms, Pancreatitis, Pancreatic neuroplasticity, dorsal root ganglia, myenteric plexus, Morphometry, neurite density, neurite branching, perikaryonal hypertrophy, neuronal plasticity
Quantitative In vitro Assay to Measure Neutrophil Adhesion to Activated Primary Human Microvascular Endothelial Cells under Static Conditions
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco.
The vascular endothelium plays an integral part in the inflammatory response. During the acute phase of inflammation, endothelial cells (ECs) are activated by host mediators or directly by conserved microbial components or host-derived danger molecules. Activated ECs express cytokines, chemokines and adhesion molecules that mobilize, activate and retain leukocytes at the site of infection or injury. Neutrophils are the first leukocytes to arrive, and adhere to the endothelium through a variety of adhesion molecules present on the surfaces of both cells. The main functions of neutrophils are to directly eliminate microbial threats, promote the recruitment of other leukocytes through the release of additional factors, and initiate wound repair. Therefore, their recruitment and attachment to the endothelium is a critical step in the initiation of the inflammatory response. In this report, we describe an in vitro
neutrophil adhesion assay using calcein AM-labeled primary human neutrophils to quantitate the extent of microvascular endothelial cell activation under static conditions. This method has the additional advantage that the same samples quantitated by fluorescence spectrophotometry can also be visualized directly using fluorescence microscopy for a more qualitative assessment of neutrophil binding.
Immunology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Infection, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Endothelium, Vascular, Neutrophils, Inflammation, Inflammation Mediators, Neutrophil, Leukocyte Adhesion, Endothelial cells, assay
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells in Adult Zebrafish with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University of Science and Technology of China.
As retrograde labeling retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) can isolate RGCs somata from dying sites, it has become the gold standard for counting RGCs in RGCs survival and regeneration experiments. Many studies have been performed in mammalian animals to research RGCs survival after optic nerve injury. However, retrograde labeling of RGCs in adult zebrafish has not yet been reported, though some alternative methods can count cell numbers in retinal ganglion cell layers (RGCL). Considering the small size of the adult zebrafish skull and the high risk of death after drilling on the skull, we open the skull with the help of acid-etching and seal the hole with a light curing bond, which could significantly improve the survival rate. After absorbing the dyes for 5 days, almost all the RGCs are labeled. As this method does not need to transect the optic nerve, it is irreplaceable in the research of RGCs survival after optic nerve crush in adult zebrafish. Here, we introduce this method step by step and provide representative results.
Neuroscience, Issue 87,
Adult Zebrafish, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retrograde Labeling, DiI
An Optic Nerve Crush Injury Murine Model to Study Retinal Ganglion Cell Survival
Institutions: NIH, The Second Hospital of Harbin Medical University.
Injury to the optic nerve can lead to axonal degeneration, followed by a gradual death of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which results in irreversible vision loss. Examples of such diseases in human include traumatic optic neuropathy and optic nerve degeneration in glaucoma. It is characterized by typical changes in the optic nerve head, progressive optic nerve degeneration, and loss of retinal ganglion cells, if uncontrolled, leading to vision loss and blindness.
The optic nerve crush (ONC) injury mouse model is an important experimental disease model for traumatic optic neuropathy, glaucoma, etc. In this model, the crush injury to the optic nerve leads to gradual retinal ganglion cells apoptosis. This disease model can be used to study the general processes and mechanisms of neuronal death and survival, which is essential for the development of therapeutic measures. In addition, pharmacological and molecular approaches can be used in this model to identify and test potential therapeutic reagents to treat different types of optic neuropathy.
Here, we provide a step by step demonstration of (I) Baseline retrograde labeling of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) at day 1, (II) Optic nerve crush injury at day 4, (III) Harvest the retinae and analyze RGC survival at day 11, and (IV) Representative result.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, optic nerve crush injury, retinal ganglion cell, glaucoma, optic neuropathy, retrograde labeling
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
Transfection of Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells by in vivo Electroporation
Institutions: Yale University, Baylor College of Medicine.
The targeting and refinement of RGC projections to the midbrain is a popular and powerful model system for studying how precise patterns of neural connectivity form during development. In mice, retinofugal projections are arranged in a topographic manner and form eye-specific layers in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus (dLGN) of the thalamus and the Superior Colliculus (SC). The development of these precise patterns of retinofugal projections has typically been studied by labeling populations of RGCs with fluorescent dyes and tracers, such as horseradish peroxidase1-4
. However, these methods are too coarse to provide insight into developmental changes in individual RGC axonal arbor morphology that are the basis of retinotopic map formation. They also do not allow for the genetic manipulation of RGCs.
Recently, electroporation has become an effective method for providing precise spatial and temporal control for delivery of charged molecules into the retina5-11
. Current retinal electroporation protocols do not allow for genetic manipulation and tracing of retinofugal projections of a single or small cluster of RGCs in postnatal mice. It has been argued that postnatal in vivo
electroporation is not a viable method for transfecting RGCs since the labeling efficiency is extremely low and hence requires targeting at embryonic ages when RGC progenitors are undergoing differentiation and proliferation6
In this video we describe an in vivo
electroporation protocol for targeted delivery of genes, shRNA, and fluorescent dextrans to murine RGCs postnatally. This technique provides a cost effective, fast and relatively easy platform for efficient screening of candidate genes involved in several aspects of neural development including axon retraction, branching, lamination, regeneration and synapse formation at various stages of circuit development. In summary we describe here a valuable tool which will provide further insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying sensory map development.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Retinotopy, Eye Segregation, Superior Colliculus, Lateral Geniculate Nucleus, Visual Development, Retinal Ganglion Cell, Retina, Electroporation
In utero and ex vivo Electroporation for Gene Expression in Mouse Retinal Ganglion Cells
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The retina and its sole output neuron, the retinal ganglion cell (RGC), comprise an excellent model in which to examine biological questions such as cell differentiation, axon guidance, retinotopic organization and synapse formation. One drawback is the inability to efficiently and reliably manipulate gene expression in RGCs in vivo
, especially in the otherwise accessible murine visual pathways. Transgenic mice can be used to manipulate gene expression, but this approach is often expensive, time consuming, and can produce unwanted side effects. In chick, in ovo electroporation is used to manipulate gene expression in RGCs for examining retina and RGC development. Although similar electroporation techniques have been developed in neonatal mouse pups, adult rats, and embryonic murine retinae in vitro
, none of these strategies allow full characterization of RGC development and axon projections in vivo
. To this end, we have developed two applications of electroporation, one in utero
and the other ex vivo
, to specifically target embryonic murine RGCs[5, 6].
With in utero
retinal electroporation, we can misexpress or downregulate specific genes in RGCs and follow their axon projections through the visual pathways in vivo
, allowing examination of guidance decisions at intermediate targets, such as the optic chiasm, or at target regions, such as the lateral geniculate nucleus. Perturbing gene expression in a subset of RGCs in an otherwise wild-type background facilitates an understanding of gene function throughout the retinal pathway. Additionally, we have developed a companion technique for analyzing RGC axon growth in vitro
. We electroporate embryonic heads ex vivo, collect and incubate the whole retina, then prepare explants from these retinae several days later. Retinal explants can be used in a variety of in vitro assays in order to examine the response of electroporated RGC axons to guidance cues or other factors. In sum, this set of techniques enhances our ability to misexpress or downregulate genes in RGCs and should greatly aid studies examining RGC development and axon projections.
Neuroscience, Developmental Biology, Issue 31, retinal ganglion cells, electroporation, retinal explants, gene transfection, border assays, in utero, ex vivo
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
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
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
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
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
Viral Tracing of Genetically Defined Neural Circuitry
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Harvard Medical School.
Classical methods for studying neuronal circuits are fairly low throughput. Transsynaptic viruses, particularly the pseudorabies (PRV) and rabies virus (RABV), and more recently vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), for studying circuitry, is becoming increasingly popular. These higher throughput methods use viruses that transmit between neurons in either the anterograde or retrograde direction.
Recently, a modified RABV for monosynaptic retrograde tracing was developed. (Figure 1A
). In this method, the glycoprotein (G) gene is deleted from the viral genome, and resupplied only in targeted neurons. Infection specificity is achieved by substituting a chimeric G, composed of the extracellular domain of the ASLV-A glycoprotein and the cytoplasmic domain of the RABV-G (A/RG), for the normal RABV-G1
. This chimeric G specifically infects cells expressing the TVA receptor1
. The gene encoding TVA can been delivered by various methods2-8
. Following RABV-G infection of a TVA-expressing neuron, the RABV can transmit to other, synaptically connected neurons in a retrograde direction by nature of its own G which was co-delivered with the TVA receptor. This technique labels a relatively large number of inputs (5-10%)2
onto a defined cell type, providing a sampling of all of the inputs onto a defined starter cell type.
We recently modified this technique to use VSV as a transsynaptic tracer9
. VSV has several advantages, including the rapidity of gene expression. Here we detail a new viral tracing system using VSV useful for probing microcircuitry with increased resolution. While the original published strategies by Wickersham et al.4
and Beier et al.9
permit labeling of any neurons that project onto initially-infected TVA-expressing-cells, here VSV was engineered to transmit
only to TVA-expressing cells (Figure 1B
). The virus is first pseudotyped with RABV-G to permit infection of neurons downstream of TVA-expressing neurons. After infecting this first population of cells, the virus released can only infect TVA-expressing cells. Because the transsynaptic viral spread is limited to TVA-expressing cells, presence of absence of connectivity from defined cell types can be explored with high resolution. An experimental flow chart of these experiments is shown in Figure 2
. Here we show a model circuit, that of direction-selectivity in the mouse retina. We examine the connectivity of starburst amacrine cells (SACs) to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs).
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Virology, Virus, VSV, transsynaptic tracing, TVA, retrograde, neuron, synapse
Retrograde Labeling of Retinal Ganglion Cells by Application of Fluoro-Gold on the Surface of Superior Colliculus
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong - HKU.
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) counting is essential to evaluate retinal degeneration especially in glaucoma. Reliable RGC labeling is fundamental for evaluating the effects of any treatment. In rat, about 98% of RGCs is known to project to the contralateral superior colliculus (SC) (Forrester and Peters, 1967). Applying fluoro-gold (FG) on the surface of SC can label almost all the RGCs, so that we can focus on this most vulnerable retinal neuron in glaucoma. FG is taken up by the axon terminals of retinal ganglion cells and bilaterally transported retrogradely to its somas in the retina. Compare with retrograde labeling of RGC by putting FG at stump of transected optic nerve for 2 days, the interference of RGC survival is minimized. Compare with cresyl violet staining that stains RGCs, amacrine cells and endothelium of the blood vessel in the retinal ganglion cell layer, this labeling method is more specific to the RGC. This video describes the method of retrograde labeling of RGC by applying FG on the surface of SC. The surgical procedures include drilling the skull; aspirating the cortex to expose the SC and applying gelatin sponge over entire dorsal surface of SC are shown. Useful tips for avoiding massive intracranial bleeding and aspiration of the SC have been given.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, Retrograde labeling, retinal ganglion cells, ophthalmology research, superior colliculus, experimental glaucoma