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 receptors (GABAARs) 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 GABAARs 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 GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR 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 GABAARs 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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
Functional Interrogation of Adult Hypothalamic Neurogenesis with Focal Radiological Inhibition
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University Of Washington Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The functional characterization of adult-born neurons remains a significant challenge. Approaches to inhibit adult neurogenesis via invasive viral delivery or transgenic animals have potential confounds that make interpretation of results from these studies difficult. New radiological tools are emerging, however, that allow one to noninvasively investigate the function of select groups of adult-born neurons through accurate and precise anatomical targeting in small animals. Focal ionizing radiation inhibits the birth and differentiation of new neurons, and allows targeting of specific neural progenitor regions. In order to illuminate the potential functional role that adult hypothalamic neurogenesis plays in the regulation of physiological processes, we developed a noninvasive focal irradiation technique to selectively inhibit the birth of adult-born neurons in the hypothalamic median eminence. We describe a method for C
omputer tomography-guided f
radiation (CFIR) delivery to enable precise and accurate anatomical targeting in small animals. CFIR uses three-dimensional volumetric image guidance for localization and targeting of the radiation dose, minimizes radiation exposure to nontargeted brain regions, and allows for conformal dose distribution with sharp beam boundaries. This protocol allows one to ask questions regarding the function of adult-born neurons, but also opens areas to questions in areas of radiobiology, tumor biology, and immunology. These radiological tools will facilitate the translation of discoveries at the bench to the bedside.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Neural Stem Cells (NSCs), Body Weight, Radiotherapy, Image-Guided, Metabolism, Energy Metabolism, Neurogenesis, Cell Proliferation, Neurosciences, Irradiation, Radiological treatment, Computer-tomography (CT) imaging, Hypothalamus, Hypothalamic Proliferative Zone (HPZ), Median Eminence (ME), Small Animal Radiation Research Platform (SARRP)
Membrane Potential Dye Imaging of Ventromedial Hypothalamus Neurons From Adult Mice to Study Glucose Sensing
Institutions: Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Universite de Bourgogne.
Studies of neuronal activity are often performed using neurons from rodents less than 2 months of age due to the technical difficulties associated with increasing connective tissue and decreased neuronal viability that occur with age. Here, we describe a methodology for the dissociation of healthy hypothalamic neurons from adult-aged mice. The ability to study neurons from adult-aged mice allows the use of disease models that manifest at a later age and might be more developmentally accurate for certain studies. Fluorescence imaging of dissociated neurons can be used to study the activity of a population of neurons, as opposed to using electrophysiology to study a single neuron. This is particularly useful when studying a heterogeneous neuronal population in which the desired neuronal type is rare such as for hypothalamic glucose sensing neurons. We utilized membrane potential dye imaging of adult ventromedial hypothalamic neurons to study their responses to changes in extracellular glucose. Glucose sensing neurons are believed to play a role in central regulation of energy balance. The ability to study glucose sensing in adult rodents is particularly useful since the predominance of diseases related to dysfunctional energy balance (e.g
. obesity) increase with age.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, membrane potential dye, ventromedial hypothalamus, adult neurons, glucose sensing, fluorescence imaging, arcuate nucleus
A Procedure for Implanting Organized Arrays of Microwires for Single-unit Recordings in Awake, Behaving Animals
Institutions: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, National Institute on Drug Abuse.
electrophysiological recordings in the awake, behaving animal provide a powerful method for understanding neural signaling at the single-cell level. The technique allows experimenters to examine temporally and regionally specific firing patterns in order to correlate recorded action potentials with ongoing behavior. Moreover, single-unit recordings can be combined with a plethora of other techniques in order to produce comprehensive explanations of neural function. In this article, we describe the anesthesia and preparation for microwire implantation. Subsequently, we enumerate the necessary equipment and surgical steps to accurately insert a microwire array into a target structure. Lastly, we briefly describe the equipment used to record from each individual electrode in the array. The fixed microwire arrays described are well-suited for chronic implantation and allow for longitudinal recordings of neural data in almost any behavioral preparation. We discuss tracing electrode tracks to triangulate microwire positions as well as ways to combine microwire implantation with immunohistochemical techniques in order to increase the anatomical specificity of recorded results.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Single-unit Recordings, Electrophysiology, Microwire, Neurophysiology, Neural signaling
Functional Analysis of the Larval Feeding Circuit in Drosophila
Institutions: Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
The serotonergic feeding circuit in Drosophila melanogaster
larvae can be used to investigate neuronal substrates of critical importance during the development of the circuit. Using the functional output of the circuit, feeding, changes in the neuronal architecture of the stomatogastric system can be visualized. Feeding behavior can be recorded by observing the rate of retraction of the mouth hooks, which receive innervation from the brain. Locomotor behavior is used as a physiological control for feeding, since larvae use their mouth hooks to traverse across an agar substrate. Changes in feeding behavior can be correlated with the axonal architecture of the neurites innervating the gut. Using immunohistochemistry it is possible to visualize and quantitate these changes. Improper handling of the larvae during behavior paradigms can alter data as they are very sensitive to manipulations. Proper imaging of the neurite architecture innervating the gut is critical for precise quantitation of number and size of varicosities as well as the extent of branch nodes. Analysis of most circuits allow only for visualization of neurite architecture or behavioral effects; however, this model allows one to correlate the functional output of the circuit with the impairments in neuronal architecture.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Neural Pathways, Drosophila, Microscopy, Neuroimaging, Behavior, Behavior Mechanisms, Dopamine, Immunohistochemistry, neurite, proventriculus, serotonin, varicosities, animal model
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
Simultaneous Long-term Recordings at Two Neuronal Processing Stages in Behaving Honeybees
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
In both mammals and insects neuronal information is processed in different higher and lower order brain centers. These centers are coupled via convergent and divergent anatomical connections including feed forward and feedback wiring. Furthermore, information of the same origin is partially sent via parallel pathways to different and sometimes into the same brain areas. To understand the evolutionary benefits as well as the computational advantages of these wiring strategies and especially their temporal dependencies on each other, it is necessary to have simultaneous access to single neurons of different tracts or neuropiles in the same preparation at high temporal resolution. Here we concentrate on honeybees by demonstrating a unique extracellular long term access to record multi unit activity at two subsequent neuropiles1
, the antennal lobe (AL), the first olfactory processing stage and the mushroom body (MB), a higher order integration center involved in learning and memory formation, or two parallel neuronal tracts2
connecting the AL with the MB. The latter was chosen as an example and will be described in full. In the supporting video the construction and permanent insertion of flexible multi channel wire electrodes is demonstrated. Pairwise differential amplification of the micro wire electrode channels drastically reduces the noise and verifies that the source of the signal is closely related to the position of the electrode tip. The mechanical flexibility of the used wire electrodes allows stable invasive long term recordings over many hours up to days, which is a clear advantage compared to conventional extra and intracellular in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 89, honeybee brain, olfaction, extracellular long term recordings, double recordings, differential wire electrodes, single unit, multi-unit recordings
Primary Culture of Mouse Dopaminergic Neurons
Institutions: Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle, Montpellier, U661, Montpellier, Universités de Montpellier.
Dopaminergic neurons represent less than 1% of the total number of neurons in the brain. This low amount of neurons regulates important brain functions such as motor control, motivation, and working memory. Nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons selectively degenerate in Parkinson's disease (PD). This progressive neuronal loss is unequivocally associated with the motors symptoms of the pathology (bradykinesia, resting tremor, and muscular rigidity). The main agent responsible of dopaminergic neuron degeneration is still unknown. However, these neurons appear to be extremely vulnerable in diverse conditions. Primary cultures constitute one of the most relevant models to investigate properties and characteristics of dopaminergic neurons. These cultures can be submitted to various stress agents that mimic PD pathology and to neuroprotective compounds in order to stop or slow down neuronal degeneration. The numerous transgenic mouse models of PD that have been generated during the last decade further increased the interest of researchers for dopaminergic neuron cultures. Here, the video protocol focuses on the delicate dissection of embryonic mouse brains. Precise excision of ventral mesencephalon is crucial to obtain neuronal cultures sufficiently rich in dopaminergic cells to allow subsequent studies. This protocol can be realized with embryonic transgenic mice and is suitable for immunofluorescence staining, quantitative PCR, second messenger quantification, or neuronal death/survival assessment.
Neurobiology, Issue 91, Mus musculus, mesencephalon, embryonic, tyrosine hydroxylase, dopamine transporter, Parkinson's disease in vitro model
Paired Whole Cell Recordings in Organotypic Hippocampal Slices
Institutions: University of Auckland, Stanford University.
Pair recordings involve simultaneous whole cell patch clamp recordings from two synaptically connected neurons, enabling not only direct electrophysiological characterization of the synaptic connections between individual neurons, but also pharmacological manipulation of either the presynaptic or the postsynaptic neuron. When carried out in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, the probability that two neurons are synaptically connected is significantly increased. This preparation readily enables identification of cell types, and the neurons maintain their morphology and properties of synaptic function similar to that in native brain tissue. A major advantage of paired whole cell recordings is the highly precise information it can provide on the properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity that are not possible with other more crude techniques utilizing extracellular axonal stimulation. Paired whole cell recordings are often perceived as too challenging to perform. While there are challenging aspects to this technique, paired recordings can be performed by anyone trained in whole cell patch clamping provided specific hardware and methodological criteria are followed. The probability of attaining synaptically connected paired recordings significantly increases with healthy organotypic slices and stable micromanipulation allowing independent attainment of pre- and postsynaptic whole cell recordings. While CA3-CA3 pyramidal cell pairs are most widely used in the organotypic slice hippocampal preparation, this technique has also been successful in CA3-CA1 pairs and can be adapted to any neurons that are synaptically connected in the same slice preparation. In this manuscript we provide the detailed methodology and requirements for establishing this technique in any laboratory equipped for electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, hippocampus, paired recording, whole cell recording, organotypic slice, synapse, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity
The Swimmeret System of Crayfish: A Practical Guide for the Dissection of the Nerve Cord and Extracellular Recordings of the Motor Pattern
Institutions: University of Cologne.
Here we demonstrate the dissection of the crayfish abdominal nerve cord. The preparation comprises the last two thoracic ganglia (T4, T5) and the chain of abdominal ganglia (A1 to A6). This chain of ganglia includes the part of the central nervous system (CNS) that drives coordinated locomotion of the pleopods (swimmerets): the swimmeret system. It is known for over five decades that in crayfish each swimmeret is driven by its own independent pattern generating kernel that generates rhythmic alternating activity 1-3
. The motor neurons innervating the musculature of each swimmeret comprise two anatomically and functionally distinct populations 4
. One is responsible for the retraction (power stroke, PS) of the swimmeret. The other drives the protraction (return stroke, RS) of the swimmeret. Motor neurons of the swimmeret system are able to produce spontaneously a fictive motor pattern, which is identical to the pattern recorded in vivo 1
The aim of this report is to introduce an interesting and convenient model system for studying rhythm generating networks and coordination of independent microcircuits for students’ practical laboratory courses. The protocol provided includes step-by-step instructions for the dissection of the crayfish’s abdominal nerve cord, pinning of the isolated chain of ganglia, desheathing the ganglia and recording the swimmerets fictive motor pattern extracellularly from the isolated nervous system.
Additionally, we can monitor the activity of swimmeret neurons recorded intracellularly from dendrites. Here we also describe briefly these techniques and provide some examples. Furthermore, the morphology of swimmeret neurons can be assessed using various staining techniques. Here we provide examples of intracellular (by iontophoresis) dye filled neurons and backfills of pools of swimmeret motor neurons. In our lab we use this preparation to study basic functions of fictive locomotion, the effect of sensory feedback on the activity of the CNS, and coordination between microcircuits on a cellular level.
Neurobiology, Issue 93, crustacean, dissection, extracellular recording, fictive locomotion, motor neurons, locomotion
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Genetic Manipulation of the Mouse Developing Hypothalamus through In utero Electroporation
Institutions: University of Heidelberg , Institut de recherches cliniques de Montreal.
Genetic modification of specific regions of the developing mammalian brain is a very powerful experimental approach. However, generating novel mouse mutants is often frustratingly slow. It has been shown that access to the mouse brain developing in utero
with reasonable post-operatory survival is possible. Still, results with this procedure have been reported almost exclusively for the most superficial and easily accessible part of the developing brain, i.e.
the cortex. The thalamus, a narrower and more medial region, has proven more difficult to target. Transfection into deeper nuclei, especially those of the hypothalamus, is perhaps the most challenging and therefore very few results have been reported. Here we demonstrate a procedure to target the entire hypothalamic neuroepithelium or part of it (hypothalamic regions) for transfection through electroporation. The keys to our approach are longer narcosis times, injection in the third ventricle, and appropriate kind and positioning of the electrodes. Additionally, we show results of targeting and subsequent histological analysis of the most recessed hypothalamic nucleus, the mammillary body.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Embryo, Mammalian, Brain, Diencephalon, Hypothalamus, Genetic Techniques, Transfection, anesthesia, development, electrodes, electroporation, in utero, mammillary body, mouse, animal model
Manufacturing and Using Piggy-back Multibarrel Electrodes for In vivo Pharmacological Manipulations of Neural Responses
Institutions: University of Colorado Medical Campus.
recordings from single neurons allow an investigator to examine the firing properties of neurons, for example in response to sensory stimuli. Neurons typically receive multiple excitatory and inhibitory afferent and/or efferent inputs that integrate with each other, and the ultimate measured response properties of the neuron are driven by the neural integrations of these inputs. To study information processing in neural systems, it is necessary to understand the various inputs to a neuron or neural system, and the specific properties of these inputs. A powerful and technically relatively simple method to assess the functional role of certain inputs that a given neuron is receiving is to dynamically and reversibly suppress or eliminate these inputs, and measure the changes in the neuron's output caused by this manipulation. This can be accomplished by pharmacologically altering the neuron's immediate environment with piggy-back multibarrel electrodes. These electrodes consist of a single barrel recording electrode and a multibarrel drug electrode that can carry up to 4 different synaptic agonists or antagonists. The pharmacological agents can be applied iontophoretically at desired times during the experiment, allowing for time-controlled delivery and reversible reconfiguration of synaptic inputs. As such, pharmacological manipulation of the microenvironment represents a powerful and unparalleled method to test specific hypotheses about neural circuit function.
Here we describe how piggy-back electrodes are manufactured, and how they are used during in vivo
experiments. The piggy-back system allows an investigator to combine a single barrel recording electrode of any arbitrary property (resistance, tip size, shape etc) with a multibarrel drug electrode. This is a major advantage over standard multi-electrodes, where all barrels have more or less similar shapes and properties. Multibarrel electrodes were first introduced over 40 years ago 1-3
, and have undergone a number of design improvements 2,3
until the piggy-back type was introduced in the 1980s 4,5
. Here we present a set of important improvements in the laboratory production of piggy-back electrodes that allow for deep brain penetration in intact in vivo
animal preparations due to a relatively thin electrode shaft that causes minimal damage. Furthermore these electrodes are characterized by low noise recordings, and have low resistance drug barrels for very effective iontophoresis of the desired pharmacological agents.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Biophysics, Physiology, Neurobiology, Medicine, Pharmacology, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Piggyback electrode, iontophoresis, iontophoresis pump, single cell recording, neural excitation, neural inhibition, in vivo electrophysiology
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
Assessment of Cerebral Lateralization in Children using Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD)
Institutions: University of Oxford.
There are many unanswered questions about cerebral lateralization. In particular, it remains unclear which aspects of language and nonverbal ability are lateralized, whether there are any disadvantages associated with atypical patterns of cerebral lateralization, and whether cerebral lateralization develops with age. In the past, researchers interested in these questions tended to use handedness as a proxy measure for cerebral lateralization, but this is unsatisfactory because handedness is only a weak and indirect indicator of laterality of cognitive functions1
. Other methods, such as fMRI, are expensive for large-scale studies, and not always feasible with children2
Here we will describe the use of functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound (fTCD) as a cost-effective, non-invasive and reliable method for assessing cerebral lateralization. The procedure involves measuring blood flow in the middle cerebral artery via an ultrasound probe placed just in front of the ear. Our work builds on work by Rune Aaslid, who co-introduced TCD in 1982, and Stefan Knecht, Michael Deppe and their colleagues at the University of Münster, who pioneered the use of simultaneous measurements of left- and right middle cerebral artery blood flow, and devised a method of correcting for heart beat activity. This made it possible to see a clear increase in left-sided blood flow during language generation, with lateralization agreeing well with that obtained using other methods3
The middle cerebral artery has a very wide vascular territory (see Figure 1) and the method does not provide useful information about localization within a hemisphere. Our experience suggests it is particularly sensitive to tasks that involve explicit or implicit speech production. The 'gold standard' task is a word generation task (e.g. think of as many words as you can that begin with the letter 'B') 4
, but this is not suitable for young children and others with limited literacy skills. Compared with other brain imaging methods, fTCD is relatively unaffected by movement artefacts from speaking, and so we are able to get a reliable result from tasks that involve describing pictures aloud5,6
. Accordingly, we have developed a child-friendly task that involves looking at video-clips that tell a story, and then describing what was seen.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound, cerebral lateralization, language, child
Quantifying Synapses: an Immunocytochemistry-based Assay to Quantify Synapse Number
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
One of the most important goals in neuroscience is to understand the molecular cues that instruct early stages of synapse formation. As such it has become imperative to develop objective approaches to quantify changes in synaptic connectivity. Starting from sample fixation, this protocol details how to quantify synapse number both in dissociated neuronal culture and in brain sections using immunocytochemistry. Using compartment-specific antibodies, we label presynaptic terminals as well as sites of postsynaptic specialization. We define synapses as points of colocalization between the signals generated by these markers. The number of these colocalizations is quantified using a plug in Puncta Analyzer (written by Bary Wark, available upon request, 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.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, immunocytochemistry, brain, neuron, astrocyte
Physiological Recordings of High and Low Output NMJs on the Crayfish Leg Extensor Muscle
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
We explain in detail how to expose and conduct electrophysiological recordings of synaptic responses for high (phasic) and low (tonic) output motor neurons innervating the extensor muscle in the walking leg of a crayfish. Distinct differences are present in the physiology and morphology of the phasic and tonic nerve terminals. The tonic axon contains many more mitochondria, enabling it to take a vital stain more intensely than the phasic axon. The tonic terminals have varicosities, and the phasic terminal is filiform. The tonic terminals are low in synaptic efficacy but show dramatic facilitated responses. In contrast, the phasic terminals are high in quantal efficacy but show synaptic depression with high frequency stimulation. The quantal output is measured with a focal macropatch electrode placed directly over the visualized nerve terminals. Both phasic and tonic terminals innervate the same muscle fibers, which suggests that inherent differences in the neurons, rather than differential retrograde feedback from the muscle, account for the morphological and physiological differentiation.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, synapse, crayfish, neuromuscular junction, invertebrate, motor neuron, muscle
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Mapping Inhibitory Neuronal Circuits by Laser Scanning Photostimulation
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Irvine.
Inhibitory neurons are crucial to cortical function. They comprise about 20% of the entire cortical neuronal population and can be further subdivided into diverse subtypes based on their immunochemical, morphological, and physiological properties1-4
. Although previous research has revealed much about intrinsic properties of individual types of inhibitory neurons, knowledge about their local circuit connections is still relatively limited3,5,6
. Given that each individual neuron's function is shaped by its excitatory and inhibitory synaptic input within cortical circuits, we have been using laser scanning photostimulation (LSPS) to map local circuit connections to specific inhibitory cell types. Compared to conventional electrical stimulation or glutamate puff stimulation, LSPS has unique advantages allowing for extensive mapping and quantitative analysis of local functional inputs to individually recorded neurons3,7-9
. Laser photostimulation via glutamate uncaging selectively activates neurons perisomatically, without activating axons of passage or distal dendrites, which ensures a sub-laminar mapping resolution. The sensitivity and efficiency of LSPS for mapping inputs from many stimulation sites over a large region are well suited for cortical circuit analysis.
Here we introduce the technique of LSPS combined with whole-cell patch clamping for local inhibitory circuit mapping. Targeted recordings of specific inhibitory cell types are facilitated by use of transgenic mice expressing green fluorescent proteins (GFP) in limited inhibitory neuron populations in the cortex3,10
, which enables consistent sampling of the targeted cell types and unambiguous identification of the cell types recorded. As for LSPS mapping, we outline the system instrumentation, describe the experimental procedure and data acquisition, and present examples of circuit mapping in mouse primary somatosensory cortex. As illustrated in our experiments, caged glutamate is activated in a spatially restricted region of the brain slice by UV laser photolysis; simultaneous voltage-clamp recordings allow detection of photostimulation-evoked synaptic responses. Maps of either excitatory or inhibitory synaptic input to the targeted neuron are generated by scanning the laser beam to stimulate hundreds of potential presynaptic sites. Thus, LSPS enables the construction of detailed maps of synaptic inputs impinging onto specific types of inhibitory neurons through repeated experiments. Taken together, the photostimulation-based technique offers neuroscientists a powerful tool for determining the functional organization of local cortical circuits.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, glutamate uncaging, whole cell recording, GFP, transgenic, interneurons
Preparation of Parasagittal Slices for the Investigation of Dorsal-ventral Organization of the Rodent Medial Entorhinal Cortex
Institutions: University of Edinburgh , University of Edinburgh .
Computation in the brain relies on neurons responding appropriately to their synaptic inputs. Neurons differ in their complement and distribution of membrane ion channels that determine how they respond to synaptic inputs. However, the relationship between these cellular properties and neuronal function in behaving animals is not well understood. One approach to this problem is to investigate topographically organized neural circuits in which the position of individual neurons maps onto information they encode or computations they carry out1
. Experiments using this approach suggest principles for tuning of synaptic responses underlying information encoding in sensory and cognitive circuits2,3
The topographical organization of spatial representations along the dorsal-ventral axis of the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) provides an opportunity to establish relationships between cellular mechanisms and computations important for spatial cognition. Neurons in layer II of the rodent MEC encode location using grid-like firing fields4-6
. For neurons found at dorsal positions in the MEC the distance between the individual firing fields that form a grid is on the order of 30 cm, whereas for neurons at progressively more ventral positions this distance increases to greater than 1 m. Several studies have revealed cellular properties of neurons in layer II of the MEC that, like the spacing between grid firing fields, also differ according to their dorsal-ventral position, suggesting that these cellular properties are important for spatial computation2,7-10
Here we describe procedures for preparation and electrophysiological recording from brain slices that maintain the dorsal-ventral extent of the MEC enabling investigation of the topographical organization of biophysical and anatomical properties of MEC neurons. The dorsal-ventral position of identified neurons relative to anatomical landmarks is difficult to establish accurately with protocols that use horizontal slices of MEC7,8,11,12
, as it is difficult to establish reference points for the exact dorsal-ventral location of the slice. The procedures we describe enable accurate and consistent measurement of location of recorded cells along the dorsal-ventral axis of the MEC as well as visualization of molecular gradients2,10
. The procedures have been developed for use with adult mice (> 28 days) and have been successfully employed with mice up to 1.5 years old. With adjustments they could be used with younger mice or other rodent species. A standardized system of preparation and measurement will aid systematic investigation of the cellular and microcircuit properties of this area.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Parasagittal slice, Medial Entorhinal Cortex, Stellate cell, Grid cell, Synaptic integration, Topographic map
The Use of Pharmacological-challenge fMRI in Pre-clinical Research: Application to the 5-HT System
Institutions: Academic Medical Center Amsterdam, Imperial College London .
Pharmacological MRI (phMRI) is a new and promising method to study the effects of substances on brain function that can ultimately be used to unravel underlying neurobiological mechanisms behind drug action and neurotransmitter-related disorders, such as depression and ADHD. Like most of the imaging methods (PET, SPECT, CT) it represents a progress in the investigation of brain disorders and the related function of neurotransmitter pathways in a non-invasive way with respect of the overall neuronal connectivity. Moreover it also provides the ideal tool for translation to clinical investigations. MRI, while still behind in molecular imaging strategies compared to PET and SPECT, has the great advantage to have a high spatial resolution and no need for the injection of a contrast-agent or radio-labeled molecules, thereby avoiding the repetitive exposure to ionizing radiations. Functional MRI (fMRI) is extensively used in research and clinical setting, where it is generally combined with a psycho-motor task. phMRI is an adaptation of fMRI enabling the investigation of a specific neurotransmitter system, such as serotonin (5-HT), under physiological or pathological conditions following activation via administration of a specific challenging drug.
The aim of the method described here is to assess brain 5-HT function in free-breathing animals. By challenging the 5-HT system while simultaneously acquiring functional MR images over time, the response of the brain to this challenge can be visualized. Several studies in animals have already demonstrated that drug-induced increases in extracellular levels of e.g. 5-HT (releasing agents, selective re-uptake blockers, etc) evoke region-specific changes in blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) MRI signals (signal due to a change of the oxygenated/deoxygenated hemoglobin levels occurring during brain activation through an increase of the blood supply to supply the oxygen and glucose to the demanding neurons) providing an index of neurotransmitter function. It has also been shown that these effects can be reversed by treatments that decrease 5-HT availability16,13,18,7
. In adult rats, BOLD signal changes following acute SSRI administration have been described in several 5-HT related brain regions, i.e. cortical areas, hippocampus, hypothalamus and thalamus9,16,15
. Stimulation of the 5-HT system and its response to this challenge can be thus used as a measure of its function in both animals and humans2,11
Medicine, Issue 62, Pharmacological MRI, Neuroscience, rat, 5-HT, BOLD, translational imaging, brain, fMRI
Hyponeophagia: A Measure of Anxiety in the Mouse
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Before the present day, when fast-acting and potent rodenticides such as alpha-chloralose were not yet in use, the work of pest controllers was often hampered by a phenomenon known as "bait shyness". Mice and rats cannot vomit, due to the tightness of the cardiac sphincter of the stomach, so to overcome the problem of potential food toxicity they have evolved a strategy of first ingesting only very small amounts of novel substances. The amounts ingested then gradually increase until the animal has determined whether the substance is safe and nutritious. So the old rat-catchers would first put a palatable substance such as oatmeal, which was to be the vehicle for the toxin, in the infested area. Only when large amounts were being readily consumed would they then add the poison, in amounts calculated not to affect the taste of the vehicle. The poisoned bait, which the animals were now readily eating in large amounts, would then swiftly perform its function.
Bait shyness is now used in the behavioural laboratory as a way of measuring anxiety. A highly palatable but novel substance, such as sweet corn, nuts or sweetened condensed milk, is offered to the mice (or rats) in a novel situation, such as a new cage. The latency to consume a defined amount of the new food is then measured.
Robert M.J. Deacon can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Anxiety, hyponeophagia, bait shyness, mice, hippocampus, strain differences, plus-maze
Visualizing Single Molecular Complexes In Vivo Using Advanced Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Full insight into the mechanisms of living cells can be achieved only by investigating the key processes that elicit and direct events at a cellular level. To date the shear complexity of biological systems has caused precise single-molecule experimentation to be far too demanding, instead focusing on studies of single systems using relatively crude bulk ensemble-average measurements. However, many important processes occur in the living cell at the level of just one or a few molecules; ensemble measurements generally mask the stochastic and heterogeneous nature of these events. Here, using advanced optical microscopy and analytical image analysis tools we demonstrate how to monitor proteins within a single living bacterial cell to a precision of single molecules and how we can observe dynamics within molecular complexes in functioning biological machines. The techniques are directly relevant physiologically. They are minimally-perturbative and non-invasive to the biological sample under study and are fully attuned for investigations in living material, features not readily available to other single-molecule approaches of biophysics. In addition, the biological specimens studied all produce fluorescently-tagged protein at levels which are almost identical to the unmodified cell strains ("genomic encoding"), as opposed to the more common but less ideal approach for generating significantly more protein than would occur naturally ('plasmid expression'). Thus, the actual biological samples which will be investigated are significantly closer to the natural organisms, and therefore the observations more relevant to real physiological processes.
Bioengineering, Issue 31, Single-molecule, fluorescence, microscopy, TIRF, FRAP, in vivo, membrane protein, GFP, diffusion, bacteria
BioMEMS: Forging New Collaborations Between Biologists and Engineers
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
This video describes the fabrication and use of a microfluidic device to culture central nervous system (CNS) neurons. This device is compatible with live-cell optical microscopy (DIC and phase contrast), as well as confocal and two photon microscopy approaches. This method uses precision-molded polymer parts to create miniature multi-compartment cell culture with fluidic isolation. The compartments are made of tiny channels with dimensions that are large enough to culture neurons in well-controlled fluidic microenvironments. Neurons can be cultured for 2-3 weeks within the device, after which they can be fixed and stained for immunocytochemistry. Axonal and somal compartments can be maintained fluidically isolated from each other by using a small hydrostatic pressure difference; this feature can be used to localize soluble insults to one compartment for up to 20 h after each medium change. Fluidic isolation enables collection of pure axonal fraction and biochemical analysis by PCR. The microfluidic device provides a highly adaptable platform for neuroscience research and may find applications in modeling CNS injury and neurodegeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 9, Microfluidics, Bioengineering, Neuron
Propagation of Human Embryonic Stem (ES) Cells
Institutions: MGH - Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, ES, embryonic stem cells, tissue culture