Cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI) can cause devastating neurological deficits, including impairment or loss of upper limb and hand function. A majority of the spinal cord injuries in humans occur at the cervical levels. Therefore, developing cervical injury models and developing relevant and sensitive behavioral tests is of great importance. Here we describe the use of a newly developed forelimb step-alternation test after cervical spinal cord injury in rats. In addition, we describe two behavioral tests that have not been used after spinal cord injury: a postural instability test (PIT), and a pasta-handling test. All three behavioral tests are highly sensitive to injury and are easy to use. Therefore, we feel that these behavioral tests can be instrumental in investigating therapeutic strategies after cSCI.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
A Contusive Model of Unilateral Cervical Spinal Cord Injury Using the Infinite Horizon Impactor
Institutions: University of British Columbia , University of British Columbia .
While the majority of human spinal cord injuries occur in the cervical spinal cord, the vast majority of laboratory research employs animal models of spinal cord injury (SCI) in which the thoracic spinal cord is injured. Additionally, because most human cord injuries occur as the result of blunt, non-penetrating trauma (e.g. motor vehicle accident, sporting injury) where the spinal cord is violently struck by displaced bone or soft tissues, the majority of SCI researchers are of the opinion that the most clinically relevant injury models are those in which the spinal cord is rapidly contused.1
Therefore, an important step in the preclinical evaluation of novel treatments on their way to human translation is an assessment of their efficacy in a model of contusion SCI within the cervical spinal cord. Here, we describe the technical aspects and resultant anatomical and behavioral outcomes of an unilateral contusive model of cervical SCI that employs the Infinite Horizon spinal cord injury impactor.
Sprague Dawley rats underwent a left-sided unilateral laminectomy at C5. To optimize the reproducibility of the biomechanical, functional, and histological outcomes of the injury model, we contused the spinal cords using an impact force of 150 kdyn, an impact trajectory of 22.5° (animals rotated at 22.5°), and an impact location off of midline of 1.4 mm. Functional recovery was assessed using the cylinder rearing test, horizontal ladder test, grooming test and modified Montoya's staircase test for up to 6 weeks, after which the spinal cords were evaluated histologically for white and grey matter sparing.
The injury model presented here imparts consistent and reproducible biomechanical forces to the spinal cord, an important feature of any experimental SCI model. This results in discrete histological damage to the lateral half of the spinal cord which is largely contained to the ipsilateral side of injury. The injury is well tolerated by the animals, but does result in functional deficits of the forelimb that are significant and sustained in the weeks following injury. The cervical unilateral injury model presented here may be a resource to researchers who wish to evaluate potentially promising therapies prior to human translation.
Medicine, Issue 65, Neuroscience, Physiology, Infinite Horizon Spinal Cord Injury Device, SCI, cervical, unilateral, contusion, forelimb function
Kinematics and Ground Reaction Force Determination: A Demonstration Quantifying Locomotor Abilities of Young Adult, Middle-aged, and Geriatric Rats
Institutions: Riverview, NB, University of Calgary, University of Calgary, University of Calgary.
Behavior, in its broadest definition, can be defined as the motor manifestation of physiologic processes. As such, all behaviors manifest through the motor system. In the fields of neuroscience and orthopedics, locomotion is a commonly evaluated behavior for a variety of disease models. For example, locomotor recovery after traumatic injury to the nervous system is one of the most commonly evaluated behaviors 1-3
. Though locomotion can be evaluated using a variety of endpoint measurements (e.g. time taken to complete a locomotor task, etc), semiquantitative kinematic measures (e.g. ordinal rating scales (e.g. Basso Beattie and Bresnahan locomotor (BBB) rating scale, etc)) and surrogate measures of behaviour (e.g. muscle force, nerve conduction velocity, etc), only kinetics (force measurements) and kinematics (measurements of body segments in space) provide a detailed description of the strategy by which an animal is able to locomote 1
. Though not new, kinematic and kinetic measurements of locomoting rodents is now more readily accessible due to the availability of commercially available equipment designed for this purpose. Importantly, however, experimenters need to be very familiar with theory of biomechanical analyses and understand the benefits and limitations of these forms of analyses prior to embarking on what will become a relatively labor-intensive study. The present paper aims to describe a method for collecting kinematic and ground reaction force data using commercially available equipment. Details of equipment and apparatus set-up, pre-training of animals, inclusion and exclusion criteria of acceptable runs, and methods for collecting the data are described. We illustrate the utility of this behavioral analysis technique by describing the kinematics and kinetics of strain-matched young adult, middle-aged, and geriatric rats.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Locomotion, kinetics, kinematics, aging
Mouse Short- and Long-term Locomotor Activity Analyzed by Video Tracking Software
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Locomotor activity (LMA) is a simple and easily performed measurement of behavior in mice and other rodents. Improvements in video tracking software (VTS) have allowed it to be coupled to LMA testing, dramatically improving specificity and sensitivity when compared to the line crossings method with manual scoring. In addition, VTS enables high-throughput experimentation. While similar to automated video tracking used for the open field test (OFT), LMA testing is unique in that it allows mice to remain in their home cage and does not utilize the anxiogenic stimulus of bright lighting during the active phase of the light-dark cycle. Traditionally, LMA has been used for short periods of time (mins), while longer movement studies (hrs-days) have often used implanted transmitters and biotelemetry. With the option of real-time tracking, long-, like short-term LMA testing, can now be conducted using videography. Long-term LMA testing requires a specialized, but easily constructed, cage so that food and water (which is usually positioned on the cage top) does not obstruct videography. Importantly, videography and VTS allows for the quantification of parameters, such as path of mouse movement, that are difficult or unfeasible to measure with line crossing and/or biotelemetry. In sum, LMA testing coupled to VTS affords a more complete description of mouse movement and the ability to examine locomotion over an extended period of time.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Behavior, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Animal, Exploratory Behavior, Behavioral Research, Psychoneuroimmunology, Locomotion, Neuroimmune, high throughput, sickness behavior, noninvasive, video recording, imaging, animal model
Intravital Imaging of Axonal Interactions with Microglia and Macrophages in a Mouse Dorsal Column Crush Injury
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Traumatic spinal cord injury causes an inflammatory reaction involving blood-derived macrophages and central nervous system (CNS)-resident microglia. Intra-vital two-photon microscopy enables the study of macrophages and microglia in the spinal cord lesion in the living animal. This can be performed in adult animals with a traumatic injury to the dorsal column. Here, we describe methods for distinguishing macrophages from microglia in the CNS using an irradiation bone marrow chimera to obtain animals in which only macrophages or microglia are labeled with a genetically encoded green fluorescent protein. We also describe a injury model that crushes the dorsal column of the spinal cord, thereby producing a simple, easily accessible, rectangular lesion that is easily visualized in an animal through a laminectomy. Furthermore, we will outline procedures to sequentially image the animals at the anatomical site of injury for the study of cellular interactions during the first few days to weeks after injury.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Intravital, spinal cord crush injury, chimera, microglia, macrophages, dorsal column crush, axonal dieback
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
Intraspinal Cell Transplantation for Targeting Cervical Ventral Horn in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
Institutions: Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.
Respiratory compromise due to phrenic motor neuron loss is a debilitating consequence of a large proportion of human traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) cases 1
and is the ultimate cause of death in patients with the motor neuron disorder, amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS) 2
ALS is a devastating neurological disorder that is characterized by relatively rapid degeneration of upper and lower motor neurons. Patients ultimately succumb to the disease on average 2-5 years following diagnosis because of respiratory paralysis due to loss of phrenic motor neuron innnervation of the diaphragm 3
. The vast majority of cases are sporadic, while 10% are of the familial form. Approximately twenty percent of familial cases are linked to various point mutations in the Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene on chromosome 21 4
. Transgenic mice 4,5
and rats 6
carrying mutant human SOD1 genes (G93A, G37R, G86R, G85R)
have been generated, and, despite the existence of other animal models of motor neuron loss, are currently the most highly used models of the disease.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a heterogeneous set of conditions resulting from physical trauma to the spinal cord, with functional outcome varying according to the type, location and severity of the injury 7
. Nevertheless, approximately half of human SCI cases affect cervical regions, resulting in debilitating respiratory dysfunction due to phrenic motor neuron loss and injury to descending bulbospinal respiratory axons 1
. A number of animal models of SCI have been developed, with the most commonly used and clinically-relevant being the contusion 8
Transplantation of various classes of neural precursor cells (NPCs) is a promising therapeutic strategy for treatment of traumatic CNS injuries and neurodegeneration, including ALS and SCI, because of the ability to replace lost or dysfunctional CNS cell types, provide neuroprotection, and deliver gene factors of interest 9
Animal models of both ALS and SCI can model many clinically-relevant aspects of these diseases, including phrenic motor neuron loss and consequent respiratory compromise 10,11
. In order to evaluate the efficacy of NPC-based strategies on respiratory function in these animal models of ALS and SCI, cellular interventions must be specifically directed to regions containing therapeutically relevant targets such as phrenic motor neurons. We provide a detailed protocol for multi-segmental, intraspinal transplantation of NPCs into the cervical spinal cord ventral gray matter of neurodegenerative models such as SOD1G93A
mice and rats, as well as spinal cord injured rats and mice 11
Medicine, Issue 55, cell transplantation, engraftment, graft, spinal cord, stem cells, precursors, ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, motor neuron, SCI, spinal cord injury
Methods to Quantify Pharmacologically Induced Alterations in Motor Function in Human Incomplete SCI
Institutions: Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a debilitating disorder, which produces profound deficits in volitional motor control. Following medical stabilization, recovery from SCI typically involves long term rehabilitation. While recovery of walking ability is a primary goal in many patients early after injury, those with a motor incomplete SCI, indicating partial preservation of volitional control, may have the sufficient residual descending pathways necessary to attain this goal. However, despite physical interventions, motor impairments including weakness, and the manifestation of abnormal involuntary reflex activity, called spasticity or spasms, are thought to contribute to reduced walking recovery. Doctrinaire thought suggests that remediation of this abnormal motor reflexes associated with SCI will produce functional benefits to the patient. For example, physicians and therapists will provide specific pharmacological or physical interventions directed towards reducing spasticity or spasms, although there continues to be little empirical data suggesting that these strategies improve walking ability.
In the past few decades, accumulating data has suggested that specific neuromodulatory agents, including agents which mimic or facilitate the actions of the monoamines, including serotonin (5HT) and norepinephrine (NE), can initiate or augment walking behaviors in animal models of SCI. Interestingly, many of these agents, particularly 5HTergic agonists, can markedly increase spinal excitability, which in turn also increases reflex activity in these animals. Counterintuitive to traditional theories of recovery following human SCI, the empirical evidence from basic science experiments suggest that this reflex hyper excitability and generation of locomotor behaviors are driven in parallel by neuromodulatory inputs (5HT) and may be necessary for functional recovery following SCI.
The application of this novel concept derived from basic scientific studies to promote recovery following human SCI would appear to be seamless, although the direct translation of the findings can be extremely challenging. Specifically, in the animal models, an implanted catheter facilitates delivery of very specific 5HT agonist compounds directly onto the spinal circuitry. The translation of this technique to humans is hindered by the lack of specific surgical techniques or available pharmacological agents directed towards 5HT receptor subtypes that are safe and effective for human clinical trials. However, oral administration of commonly available 5HTergic agents, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be a viable option to increase central 5HT concentrations in order to facilitate walking recovery in humans. Systematic quantification of how these SSRIs modulate human motor behaviors following SCI, with a specific focus on strength, reflexes, and the recovery of walking ability, are missing.
This video demonstration is a progressive attempt to systematically and quantitatively assess the modulation of reflex activity, volitional strength and ambulation following the acute oral administration of an SSRI in human SCI. Agents are applied on single days to assess the immediate effects on motor function in this patient population, with long-term studies involving repeated drug administration combined with intensive physical interventions.
Medicine, Issue 50, spinal cord injury, spasticity, locomotion, strength, vector coding, biomechanics, reflex, serotonin, human, electromyography
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Evaluation of Respiratory Muscle Activation Using Respiratory Motor Control Assessment (RMCA) in Individuals with Chronic Spinal Cord Injury
Institutions: University of Louisville, Shepherd Center, University of Louisville.
During breathing, activation of respiratory muscles is coordinated by integrated input from the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. When this coordination is disrupted by spinal cord injury (SCI), control of respiratory muscles innervated below the injury level is compromised1,2
leading to respiratory muscle dysfunction and pulmonary complications. These conditions are among the leading causes of death in patients with SCI3
. Standard pulmonary function tests that assess respiratory motor function include spirometrical and maximum airway pressure outcomes: Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), Forced Expiratory Volume in one second (FEV1
), Maximal Inspiratory Pressure (PImax
) and Maximal Expiratory Pressure (PEmax
. These values provide indirect measurements of respiratory muscle performance6
. In clinical practice and research, a surface electromyography (sEMG) recorded from respiratory muscles can be used to assess respiratory motor function and help to diagnose neuromuscular pathology. However, variability in the sEMG amplitude inhibits efforts to develop objective and direct measures of respiratory motor function6
. Based on a multi-muscle sEMG approach to characterize motor control of limb muscles7
, known as the voluntary response index (VRI)8
, we developed an analytical tool to characterize respiratory motor control directly from sEMG data recorded from multiple respiratory muscles during the voluntary respiratory tasks. We have termed this the Respiratory Motor Control Assessment (RMCA)9
. This vector analysis method quantifies the amount and distribution of activity across muscles and presents it in the form of an index that relates the degree to which sEMG output within a test-subject resembles that from a group of healthy (non-injured) controls. The resulting index value has been shown to have high face validity, sensitivity and specificity9-11
. We showed previously9
that the RMCA outcomes significantly correlate with levels of SCI and pulmonary function measures. We are presenting here the method to quantitatively compare post-spinal cord injury respiratory multi-muscle activation patterns to those of healthy individuals.
Medicine, Issue 77, Anatomy, Physiology, Behavior, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Spinal Cord Injuries, Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive, Motor Activity, Analytical, Diagnostic and Therapeutic Techniques and Equipment, Respiratory Muscles, Motor Control, Electromyography, Pulmonary Function Test, Spinal Cord Injury, SCI, clinical techniques
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Behavioral and Locomotor Measurements Using an Open Field Activity Monitoring System for Skeletal Muscle Diseases
Institutions: Children's National Medical Center, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The open field activity monitoring system comprehensively assesses locomotor and behavioral activity levels of mice. It is a useful tool for assessing locomotive impairment in animal models of neuromuscular disease and efficacy of therapeutic drugs that may improve locomotion and/or muscle function. The open field activity measurement provides a different measure than muscle strength, which is commonly assessed by grip strength measurements. It can also show how drugs may affect other body systems as well when used with additional outcome measures. In addition, measures such as total distance traveled mirror the 6 min walk test, a clinical trial outcome measure. However, open field activity monitoring is also associated with significant challenges: Open field activity measurements vary according to animal strain, age, sex, and circadian rhythm. In addition, room temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, and even odor can affect assessment outcomes. Overall, this manuscript provides a well-tested and standardized open field activity SOP for preclinical trials in animal models of neuromuscular diseases. We provide a discussion of important considerations, typical results, data analysis, and detail the strengths and weaknesses of open field testing. In addition, we provide recommendations for optimal study design when using open field activity in a preclinical trial.
Behavior, Issue 91, open field activity, functional testing, behavioral testing, skeletal muscle, congenital muscular dystrophy, muscular dystrophy
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
A Novel Method for Assessing Proximal and Distal Forelimb Function in the Rat: the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan (IBB) Forelimb Scale
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco.
Several experimental models of cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) have been developed recently to assess the consequences of damage to this level of the spinal cord (Pearse et al.
, 2005, Gensel et al.
, 2006, Anderson et al.
, 2009), as the majority of human SCI occur here (Young, 2010; www.sci-info-pages.com). Behavioral deficits include loss of forelimb function due to damage to the white matter affecting both descending motor and ascending sensory systems, and to the gray matter containing the segmental circuitry for processing sensory input and motor output for the forelimb. Additionally, a key priority for human patients with cervical SCI is restoration of hand/arm function (Anderson, 2004). Thus, outcome measures that assess both proximal and distal forelimb function are needed. Although there are several behavioral assays that are sensitive to different aspects of forelimb recovery in experimental models of cervical SCI (Girgis et al.
, 2007, Gensel et al.
, 2006, Ballerman et al.
, 2001, Metz and Whishaw, 2000, Bertelli and Mira, 1993, Montoya et al.
, 1991, Whishaw and Pellis, 1990), few techniques provide detailed information on the recovery of fine motor control and digit movement.
The current measurement technique, the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan forelimb scale (IBB), can detect recovery of both proximal and distal forelimb function including digit movements during a naturally occurring behavior that does not require extensive training or deprivation to enhance motivation. The IBB was generated by observing recovery after a unilateral C6 SCI, and involves video recording of animals eating two differently shaped cereals (spherical and doughnut) of a consistent size. These videos were then used to assess features of forelimb use, such as joint position, object support, digit movement and grasping technique.
The IBB, like other forelimb behavioral tasks, shows a consistent pattern of recovery that is sensitive to injury severity. Furthermore, the IBB scale could be used to assess recovery following other types of injury that impact normal forelimb function.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, spinal cord injury, recovery of function, forelimb function, neurological test, cervical injuries
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
Recordings of Neural Circuit Activation in Freely Behaving Animals
Institutions: University of Maryland.
The relationship between patterns of neural activity and corresponding behavioral expression is difficult to establish in unrestrained animals. Traditional non-invasive methods require at least partially restrained research subjects, and they only allow identification of large numbers of simultaneously activated neurons. On the other hand, small ensembles of neurons or individual neurons can only be measured using single-cell recordings obtained from largely reduced preparations. Since the expression of natural behavior is limited in restrained and dissected animals, the underlying neural mechanisms that control such behavior are difficult to identify.
Here, I present a non-invasive physiological technique that allows measuring neural circuit activation in freely behaving animals. Using a pair of wire electrodes inside a water-filled chamber, the bath electrodes record neural and muscular field potentials generated by juvenile crayfish during natural or experimentally evoked escape responses. The primary escape responses of crayfish are mediated by three different types of tail-flips which move the animals away from the point of stimulation. Each type of tail-flip is controlled by its own neural circuit; the two fastest and most powerful escape responses require activation of different sets of large “command” neurons. In combination with behavioral observations, the bath electrode recordings allow unambiguous identification of these neurons and the associated neural circuits. Thus activity of neural circuitry underlying naturally occurring behavior can be measured in unrestrained animals and in different behavioral contexts.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, Electrophysiology, bath electrodes, neurons, behavior
The Structure of Skilled Forelimb Reaching in the Rat: A Movement Rating Scale
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Skilled reaching for food is an evolutionary ancient act and is displayed by many animal species, including those in the sister clades of rodents and primates. The video describes a test situation that allows filming of repeated acts of reaching for food by the rat that has been mildly food deprived. A rat is trained to reach through a slot in a holding box for food pellet that it grasps and then places in its mouth for eating. Reaching is accomplished in the main by proximally driven movements of the limb but distal limb movements are used for pronating the paw, grasping the food, and releasing the food into the mouth. Each reach is divided into at least 10 movements of the forelimb and the reaching act is facilitated by postural adjustments. Each of the movements is described and examples of the movements are given from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Because the reaching act for the rat is very similar to that displayed by humans and nonhuman primates, the scale can be used for comparative purposes. from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation.
Experiments on animals were performed in accordance with the guidelines and regulations set forth by the University of Lethbridge Animal Care Committee in accordance with the regulations of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, rat skilled reaching, rat reaching scale, rat, rat movement element rating scale, reaching elements
Use of Rotorod as a Method for the Qualitative Analysis of Walking in Rat
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
High speed videoanalysis of the details of movement can provide a source of information about qualitative aspects of walking movements. When walking on a rotorod, animals remain in approximately the same place making repetitive movements of stepping. Thus the task provides a rich source of information on the details of foot stepping movements. Subjects were hemi-Parkinson analogue rats, produced by injection of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the right nigrostriatal bundle to deplete nigrostriatal dopamine (DA). The present report provides a video analysis illustration of animals previously were filmed from frontal, lateral, and posterior views as they walked (15). Rating scales and frame-by-frame replay of the video records of stepping behavior indicated that the hemi-Parkinson rats were chronically impaired in posture and limb use contralateral to the DA-depletion. The contralateral limbs participated less in initiating and sustaining propulsion than the ipsilateral limbs. These deficits secondary to unilateral DA-depletion show that the rotorod provides a use task for the analysis of stepping movements.
Neuroscience, Issue 22, Rat walking, gait analysis, rotorod, rat forelimb, Parkinson disease model, dopamine depletion
The Ladder Rung Walking Task: A Scoring System and its Practical Application.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Progress in the development of animal models for/stroke, spinal cord injury, and other neurodegenerative disease requires tests of high sensitivity to elaborate distinct aspects of motor function and to determine even subtle loss of movement capacity. To enhance efficacy and resolution of testing, tests should permit qualitative and quantitative measures of motor function and be sensitive to changes in performance during recovery periods. The present study describes a new task to assess skilled walking in the rat to measure both forelimb and hindlimb function at the same time. Animals are required to walk along a horizontal ladder on which the spacing of the rungs is variable and is periodically changed. Changes in rung spacing prevent animals from learning the absolute and relative location of the rungs and so minimize the ability of the animals to compensate for impairments through learning. In addition, changing the spacing between the rungs allows the test to be used repeatedly in long-term studies. Methods are described for both quantitative and qualitative description of both fore- and hindlimb performance, including limb placing, stepping, co-ordination. Furthermore, use of compensatory strategies is indicated by missteps or compensatory steps in response to another limb’s misplacement.
Neuroscience, Issue 28, rat, animal model of walking, skilled movement, ladder test, rung test, neuroscience