Neural stem cells (NSCs) can self-renew and differentiate into neurons and glia. Transplanted NSCs can replace lost neurons and glia after spinal cord injury (SCI), and can form functional relays to re-connect spinal cord segments above and below a lesion. Previous studies grafting neural stem cells have been limited by incomplete graft survival within the spinal cord lesion cavity. Further, tracking of graft cell survival, differentiation, and process extension had not been optimized. Finally, in previous studies, cultured rat NSCs were typically reported to differentiate into glia when grafted to the injured spinal cord, rather than neurons, unless fate was driven to a specific cell type. To address these issues, we developed new methods to improve the survival, integration and differentiation of NSCs to sites of even severe SCI. NSCs were freshly isolated from embryonic day 14 spinal cord (E14) from a stable transgenic Fischer 344 rat line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) and were embedded into a fibrin matrix containing growth factors; this formulation aimed to retain grafted cells in the lesion cavity and support cell survival. NSCs in the fibrin/growth factor cocktail were implanted two weeks after thoracic level-3 (T3) complete spinal cord transections, thereby avoiding peak periods of inflammation. Resulting grafts completely filled the lesion cavity and differentiated into both neurons, which extended axons into the host spinal cord over remarkably long distances, and glia. Grafts of cultured human NSCs expressing GFP resulted in similar findings. Thus, methods are defined for improving neural stem cell grafting, survival and analysis of in vivo findings.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Combining Peripheral Nerve Grafting and Matrix Modulation to Repair the Injured Rat Spinal Cord
Institutions: Drexel University College of Medicine.
Traumatic injury to the spinal cord (SCI) causes death of neurons, disruption of motor and sensory nerve fiber (axon) pathways and disruption of communication with the brain. One of the goals of our research is to promote axon regeneration to restore connectivity across the lesion site. To accomplish this we developed a peripheral nerve (PN) grafting technique where segments of sciatic nerve are either placed directly between the damaged ends of the spinal cord or are used to form a bridge across the lesion. There are several advantages to this approach compared to transplantation of other neural tissues; regenerating axons can be directed towards a specific target area, the number and source of regenerating axons is easily determined by tracing techniques, the graft can be used for electrophysiological experiments to measure functional recovery associated with axons in the graft, and it is possible to use an autologous nerve to reduce the possibility of graft rejection. In our lab we have performed both autologous (donor and recipient are the same animal) and heterologous (donor and recipient are different animals) grafts with comparable results. This approach has been used successfully in both acute and chronic injury situations. Regenerated axons that reach the distal end of the PN graft often fail to extend back into the spinal cord, so we use microinjections of chondroitinase to degrade inhibitory molecules associated with the scar tissue surrounding the area of SCI. At the same time we have found that providing exogenous growth and trophic molecules encourages longer distance axonal regrowth into the spinal cord. Several months after transplantation we perform a variety of anatomical, behavioral and electrophysiological tests to evaluate the recovery of function in our spinal cord injured animals. This experimental approach has been used successfully in several spinal cord injury models, at different levels of injury and in different species (mouse, rat and cat). Importantly, the peripheral nerve grafting approach is effective in promoting regeneration by acute and chronically injured neurons.
Neurobiology, Issue 33, transplantation, SCI, regeneration, tract tracing, electrophysiology
Complete Spinal Cord Injury and Brain Dissection Protocol for Subsequent Wholemount In Situ Hybridization in Larval Sea Lamprey
Institutions: University of Edinburgh, Temple University School of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
After a complete spinal cord injury, sea lampreys at first are paralyzed below the level of transection. However, they recover locomotion after several weeks, and this is accompanied by short distance regeneration (a few mm) of propriospinal axons and spinal-projecting axons from the brainstem. Among the 36 large identifiable spinal-projecting neurons, some are good regenerators and others are bad regenerators. These neurons can most easily be identified in wholemount CNS preparations. In order to understand the neuron-intrinsic mechanisms that favor or inhibit axon regeneration after injury in the vertebrates CNS, we determine differences in gene expression between the good and bad regenerators, and how expression is influenced by spinal cord transection. This paper illustrates the techniques for housing larval and recently transformed adult sea lampreys in fresh water tanks, producing complete spinal cord transections under microscopic vision, and preparing brain and spinal cord wholemounts for in situ hybridization. Briefly, animals are kept at 16
°C and anesthetized in 1% Benzocaine in lamprey Ringer. The spinal cord is transected with iridectomy scissors via a dorsal approach and the animal is allowed to recover in fresh water tanks at 23 °C. For in situ
hybridization, animals are reanesthetized and the brain and cord removed via a dorsal approach.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, spinal cord injury, axonal guidance molecules, neurofilaments, regeneration
Culture of Isolated Floor Plate Tissue and Production of Conditioned Medium to Assess Functional Properties of Floor Plate-released Signals
Institutions: University of Lyon 1.
During development, progenitors and post-mitotic neurons receive signals from adjacent territories that regulate their fate. The floor-plate is a group of glial cells lining the ependymal canal at ventral position. The floor-plate expresses key morphogens contributing to the patterning of cell lineages in the spinal cord. At later developmental stages, the floor-plate regulates the navigation of axons in the spinal cord, acting as a barrier to prevent the crossing of ipsilateral axons and controlling midline crossing by commissural axons1
. These functions are achieved through the secretion of various guidance cues. Some of these cues act as attractants and repellents for the growing axons while others regulate guidance receptors and downstream signaling to modulate the sensitivity of the axons to the local guidance cues2,3
. Here we describe a method that allows investigating the properties of floor-plate derived signals in a variety of developmental contexts, based on the production of Floor-Plate conditioned medium (FPcm
. We then exemplify the use of this FPcm
in the context of axon guidance. First, the spinal cord is isolated from mouse embryo at E12.5 and the floor-plate is dissected out and cultivated in a plasma-thrombin matrix (Figure 1
). Second two days later, commissural tissue are dissected out from E12.5 embryos, triturated and exposed to the FPcm
. Third, the tissue are processed for Western blot analysis of commissural markers.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Growth Cones, Axons, Embryonic Development, Floor plate, conditioned medium, axon guidance, commissural tissue, biochemistry, receptor levels
Quantitative Assessment of Immune Cells in the Injured Spinal Cord Tissue by Flow Cytometry: a Novel Use for a Cell Purification Method
Institutions: University of California, University of California, University of California, University of California, University of California, University of California.
Detection of immune cells in the injured central nervous system (CNS) using morphological or histological techniques has not always provided true quantitative analysis of cellular inflammation. Flow cytometry is a quick alternative method to quantify immune cells in the injured brain or spinal cord tissue. Historically, flow cytometry has been used to quantify immune cells collected from blood or dissociated spleen or thymus, and only a few studies have attempted to quantify immune cells in the injured spinal cord by flow cytometry using fresh dissociated cord tissue. However, the dissociated spinal cord tissue is concentrated with myelin debris that can be mistaken for cells and reduce cell count reliability obtained by the flow cytometer. We have advanced a cell preparation method using the OptiPrep gradient system to effectively separate lipid/myelin debris from cells, providing sensitive and reliable quantifications of cellular inflammation in the injured spinal cord by flow cytometry. As described in our recent study (Beck & Nguyen et al., Brain. 2010 Feb; 133 (Pt 2): 433-47
), the OptiPrep cell preparation had increased sensitivity to detect cellular inflammation in the injured spinal cord, with counts of specific cell types correlating with injury severity. Critically, novel usage of this method provided the first characterization of acute and chronic cellular inflammation after SCI to include a complete time course for polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs, neutrophils), macrophages/microglia, and T-cells over a period ranging from 2 hours to 180 days post-injury (dpi), identifying a surprising novel second phase of cellular inflammation. Thorough characterization of cellular inflammation using this method may provide a better understanding of neuroinflammation in the injured CNS, and reveal an important multiphasic component of neuroinflammation that may be critical for the design and implementation of rational therapeutic treatment strategies, including both cell-based and pharmacological interventions for SCI.
Immunology, Issue 50, spinal cord injury, cellular inflammation, neuroinflammation, OptiPrep, central nervous system, neutrophils, macrophages, microglia, T-cells, flow cytometry
A Contusion Model of Severe Spinal Cord Injury in Rats
Institutions: Medical University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Joint Program.
The translational potential of novel treatments should be investigated in severe spinal cord injury (SCI) contusion models. A detailed methodology is described to obtain a consistent model of severe SCI. Use of a stereotactic frame and computer controlled impactor allows for creation of reproducible injury. Hypothermia and urinary tract infection pose significant challenges in the post-operative period. Careful monitoring of animals with daily weight recording and bladder expression allows for early detection of post-operative complications. The functional results of this contusion model are equivalent to transection models. The contusion model can be utilized to evaluate the efficacy of both neuroprotective and neuroregenerative approaches.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 78, Medicine, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Cerebrovascular Trauma, Spinal Cord Injuries, spinal cord injury model, contusion spinal cord injury, spinal cord contusion, translational spinal cord injury model, animal model
Controlled Cervical Laceration Injury in Mice
Institutions: Norton Healthcare, Indiana University School of Medicine.
Use of genetically modified mice enhances our understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying several neurological disorders such as a spinal cord injury (SCI). Freehand manual control used to produce a laceration model of SCI creates inconsistent injuries often associated with a crush or contusion component and, therefore, a novel technique was developed. Our model of cervical laceration SCI has resolved inherent difficulties with the freehand method by incorporating 1) cervical vertebral stabilization by vertebral facet fixation, 2) enhanced spinal cord exposure, and 3) creation of a reproducible laceration of the spinal cord using an oscillating blade with an accuracy of ±0.01 mm in depth without associated contusion. Compared to the standard methods of creating a SCI laceration such as freehand use of a scalpel or scissors, our method has produced a consistent lesion. This method is useful for studies on axonal regeneration of corticospinal, rubrospinal, and dorsal ascending tracts.
Medicine, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Neuroscience, Immunology, Infection, Surgery, Nervous System Diseases, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Surgical Procedures, Operative, Investigative Techniques, spine, spinal cord injury, SCI, mouse, laceration, stabilization, axonal regeneration, injury, mice, animal model, surgical techniques
Spinal Cord Transection in the Larval Zebrafish
Institutions: University of Utah.
Mammals fail in sensory and motor recovery following spinal cord injury due to lack of axonal regrowth below the level of injury as well as an inability to reinitiate spinal neurogenesis. However, some anamniotes including the zebrafish Danio rerio
exhibit both sensory and functional recovery even after complete transection of the spinal cord. The adult zebrafish is an established model organism for studying regeneration following spinal cord injury, with sensory and motor recovery by 6 weeks post-injury. To take advantage of in vivo
analysis of the regenerative process available in the transparent larval zebrafish as well as genetic tools not accessible in the adult, we use the larval zebrafish to study regeneration after spinal cord transection. Here we demonstrate a method for reproducibly and verifiably transecting the larval spinal cord. After transection, our data shows sensory recovery beginning at 2 days post-injury (dpi), with the C-bend movement detectable by 3 dpi and resumption of free swimming by 5 dpi. Thus we propose the larval zebrafish as a companion tool to the adult zebrafish for the study of recovery after spinal cord injury.
Basic Protocol, Issue 87, zebrafish, larva, spinal cord, transection, injury, neurogenesis, regeneration, recovery
DiI-Labeling of DRG Neurons to Study Axonal Branching in a Whole Mount Preparation of Mouse Embryonic Spinal Cord
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Here we present a technique to label the trajectories of small groups of DRG neurons into the embryonic spinal cord by diffusive staining using the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)1
. The comparison of axonal pathways of wild-type with those of mouse lines in which genes are mutated allows testing for a functional role of candidate proteins in the control of axonal branching which is an essential mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system. Axonal branching enables an individual neuron to connect with multiple targets, thereby providing the physical basis for the parallel processing of information. Ramifications at intermediate target regions of axonal growth may be distinguished from terminal arborization. Furthermore, different modes of axonal branch formation may be classified depending on whether branching results from the activities of the growth cone (splitting or delayed branching) or from the budding of collaterals from the axon shaft in a process called interstitial branching2
The central projections of neurons from the DRG offer a useful experimental system to study both types of axonal branching: when their afferent axons reach the dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) of the spinal cord between embryonic days 10 to 13 (E10 - E13) they display a stereotyped pattern of T- or Y-shaped bifurcation. The two resulting daughter axons then proceed in rostral or caudal directions, respectively, at the dorsolateral margin of the cord and only after a waiting period collaterals sprout from these stem axons to penetrate the gray matter (interstitial branching) and project to relay neurons in specific laminae of the spinal cord where they further arborize (terminal branching)3
. DiI tracings have revealed growth cones at the dorsal root entry zone of the spinal cord that appeared to be in the process of splitting suggesting that bifurcation is caused by splitting of the growth cone itself4
), however, other options have been discussed as well5
This video demonstrates first how to dissect the spinal cord of E12.5 mice leaving the DRG attached. Following fixation of the specimen tiny amounts of DiI are applied to DRG using glass needles pulled from capillary tubes. After an incubation step, the labeled spinal cord is mounted as an inverted open-book preparation to analyze individual axons using fluorescence microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, neurons, axonal branching, DRG, Spinal cord, DiI labeling, cGMP signaling
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
Retrograde Fluorescent Labeling Allows for Targeted Extracellular Single-unit Recording from Identified Neurons In vivo
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis , Nagoya University, Washington University in St. Louis .
The overall goal of this method is to record single-unit responses from an identified population of neurons. In vivo
electrophysiological recordings from individual neurons are critical for understanding how neural circuits function under natural conditions. Traditionally, these recordings have been performed 'blind', meaning the identity of the recorded cell is unknown at the start of the recording. Cellular identity can be subsequently determined via intracellular1
iontophoresis of dye, but these recordings cannot be pre-targeted to specific neurons in regions with functionally heterogeneous cell types. Fluorescent proteins can be expressed in a cell-type specific manner permitting visually-guided single-cell electrophysiology4-6
. However, there are many model systems for which these genetic tools are not available. Even in genetically accessible model systems, the desired promoter may be unknown or genetically homogenous neurons may have varying projection patterns. Similarly, viral vectors have been used to label specific subgroups of projection neurons7
, but use of this method is limited by toxicity and lack of trans-synaptic specificity. Thus, additional techniques that offer specific pre-visualization to record from identified single neurons in vivo
are needed. Pre-visualization of the target neuron is particularly useful for challenging recording conditions, for which classical single-cell recordings are often prohibitively difficult8-11
. The novel technique described in this paper uses retrograde transport of a fluorescent dye applied using tungsten needles to rapidly and selectively label a specific subset of cells within a particular brain region based on their unique axonal projections, thereby providing a visual cue to obtain targeted electrophysiological recordings from identified neurons in an intact circuit within a vertebrate CNS.
The most significant novel advancement of our method is the use of fluorescent labeling to target specific cell types in a non-genetically accessible model system. Weakly electric fish are an excellent model system for studying neural circuits in awake, behaving animals12
. We utilized this technique to study sensory processing by "small cells" in the anterior exterolateral nucleus (ELa) of weakly electric mormyrid fish. "Small cells" are hypothesized to be time comparator neurons important for detecting submillisecond differences in the arrival times of presynaptic spikes13
. However, anatomical features such as dense myelin, engulfing synapses, and small cell bodies have made it extremely difficult to record from these cells using traditional methods11, 14
. Here we demonstrate that our novel method selectively labels these cells in 28% of preparations, allowing for reliable, robust recordings and characterization of responses to electrosensory stimulation.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Physiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Fluorescent imaging, weakly electric fish, sensory processing, tract-tracing, electrophysiology, neuron, individual axons, labeling, injection, surgery, recording, mormyrids, animal model
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
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
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
Assessing Forelimb Function after Unilateral Cervical SCI using Novel Tasks: Limb Step-alternation, Postural Instability and Pasta Handling
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas at Austin, University of Florida.
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.
Behavior, Issue 79, Behavior, Animal, Motor Activity, Nervous System Diseases, Wounds and Injuries, cervical spinal cord injury, lateral hemisection model, limb alternation, pasta handling, postural instability
Dissection and Culture of Chick Statoacoustic Ganglion and Spinal Cord Explants in Collagen Gels for Neurite Outgrowth Assays
Institutions: Purdue University.
The sensory organs of the chicken inner ear are innervated by the peripheral processes of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) neurons. Sensory organ innervation depends on a combination of axon guidance cues1
and survival factors2
located along the trajectory of growing axons and/or within their sensory organ targets. For example, functional interference with a classic axon guidance signaling pathway, semaphorin-neuropilin, generated misrouting of otic axons3
. Also, several growth factors expressed in the sensory targets of the inner ear, including Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been manipulated in transgenic animals, again leading to misrouting of SAG axons4
. These same molecules promote both survival and neurite outgrowth of chick SAG neurons in vitro5,6
Here, we describe and demonstrate the in vitro
method we are currently using to test the responsiveness of chick SAG neurites to soluble proteins, including known morphogens such as the Wnts, as well as growth factors that are important for promoting SAG neurite outgrowth and neuron survival. Using this model system, we hope to draw conclusions about the effects that secreted ligands can exert on SAG neuron survival and neurite outgrowth.
SAG explants are dissected on embryonic day 4 (E4) and cultured in three-dimensional collagen gels under serum-free conditions for 24 hours. First, neurite responsiveness is tested by culturing explants with protein-supplemented medium. Then, to ask whether point sources of secreted ligands can have directional effects on neurite outgrowth, explants are co-cultured with protein-coated beads and assayed for the ability of the bead to locally promote or inhibit outgrowth. We also include a demonstration of the dissection (modified protocol7
) and culture of E6 spinal cord explants. We routinely use spinal cord explants to confirm bioactivity of the proteins and protein-soaked beads, and to verify species cross-reactivity with chick tissue, under the same culture conditions as SAG explants. These in vitro
assays are convenient for quickly screening for molecules that exert trophic (survival) or tropic (directional) effects on SAG neurons, especially before performing studies in vivo
. Moreover, this method permits the testing of individual molecules under serum-free conditions, with high neuron survival8
Neuroscience, Issue 58, chicken, dissection, morphogen, NT-3, neurite outgrowth, spinal cord, statoacoustic ganglion, Wnt5a
Deciphering Axonal Pathways of Genetically Defined Groups of Neurons in the Chick Neural Tube Utilizing in ovo Electroporation
Institutions: Institute for Medical Research Israel Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School.
Employment of enhancer elements to drive expression of reporter genes in neurons is a widely used paradigm for tracking axonal projection. For tracking axonal projection of spinal interneurons in vertebrates, germ line-targeted reporter genes yield bilaterally symmetric labeling. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish between the ipsi- and contra-laterally projecting axons. Unilateral electroporation into the chick neural tube provides a useful means to restrict expression of a reporter gene to one side of the central nervous system, and to follow axonal projection on both sides 1 ,2-5
. This video demonstrates first how to handle the eggs prior to injection. At HH stage 18-20, DNA is injected into the sacral level of the neural tube, then tungsten electrodes are placed parallel to the embryo and short electrical pulses are administered with a pulse generator. The egg is sealed with tape and placed back into an incubator for further development. Three days later (E6) the spinal cord is removed as an open book preparation from embryo, fixed, and processed for whole mount antibody staining. The stained spinal cord is mounted on slide and visualized using confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, in ovo electroporation, neural tube, chick, interneurons, axonal pathway
Retrograde Loading of Nerves, Tracts, and Spinal Roots with Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.
Retrograde labeling of neurons is a standard anatomical method1,2
that has also been used to load calcium and voltage-sensitive dyes into neurons3-6
. Generally, the dyes are applied as solid crystals or by local pressure injection using glass pipettes. However, this can result in dilution of the dye and reduced labeling intensity, particularly when several hours are required for dye diffusion. Here we demonstrate a simple and low-cost technique for introducing fluorescent and ion-sensitive dyes into neurons using a polyethylene suction pipette filled with the dye solution. This method offers a reliable way for maintaining a high concentration of the dye in contact with axons throughout the loading procedure.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Retrograde labeling, Fluorescent dyes, Spinal cord, Nerves, Spinal tracts, Optical imaging, Electrophysiology, Calcium-sensitive dyes