A major challenge in neurobiology is to understand the molecular underpinnings of neural circuitry that govern a specific behavior. Once the specific molecular mechanisms are identified, new therapeutic strategies can be developed to treat abnormalities in specific behaviors caused by degenerative diseases or aging of the nervous system. The marine snail Aplysia californica is well suited for the investigations of cellular and molecular basis of behavior because neural circuitry underlying a specific behavior could be easily determined and the individual components of the circuitry could be easily manipulated. These advantages of Aplysia have led to several fundamental discoveries of neurobiology of learning and memory. Here we describe a preparation of the Aplysia nervous system for the electrophysiological and molecular analyses of individual neurons. Briefly, ganglion dissected from the nervous system is exposed to protease to remove the ganglion sheath such that neurons are exposed but retain neuronal activity as in the intact animal. This preparation is used to carry out electrophysiological measurements of single or multiple neurons. Importantly, following the recording using a simple methodology, the neurons could be isolated directly from the ganglia for gene expression analysis. These protocols were used to carry out simultaneous electrophysiological recordings from L7 and R15 neurons, study their response to acetylcholine and quantitating expression of CREB1 gene in isolated single L7, L11, R15, and R2 neurons of Aplysia.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Whole Cell Recordings from Brain of Adult Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this video, we demonstrate the procedure for isolating whole brains from adult Drosophila in preparation for recording from single neurons. We begin by describing the dissecting solution and capture of the adult females used in our studies. The procedure for removing the whole brain intact, including both optic lobes, is illustrated. Dissection of the overlying trachea is also shown. The isolated brain is not only small but needs special care in handling at this stage to prevent damage to the neurons, many of which are close to the outer surface of the tissue. We show how a special holder we developed is used to stabilize the brain in the recording chamber. A standard electrophysiology set up is used for recording from single neurons or pairs of neurons. A fluorescent image, viewed through the recording microscope, from a GAL4 line driving GFP expression (GH146) illustrates how projection neurons (PNs) are identified in the live brain. A high power Nomarski image shows a view of a single neuron that is being targeted for whole cell recording. When the brain is successfully removed without damage, the majority of the neurons are spontaneously active, firing action potentials and/or exhibiting spontaneous synaptic input. This in situ preparation, in which whole cell recording of identified neurons in the whole brain can be combined with genetic and pharmacological manipulations, is a useful model for exploring cellular physiology and plasticity in the adult CNS.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, neuron, electrophysiology, insect CNS, GFP, Drosophila brain, adult fly, whole cell recording
Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1
The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
Loading Drosophila Nerve Terminals with Calcium Indicators
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Calcium plays many roles in the nervous system but none more impressive than as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, and none more profound than as the messenger essential for the synaptic plasticity that supports learning and memory. To further elucidate the molecular underpinnings of Ca2+
-dependent synaptic mechanisms, a model system is required that is both genetically malleable and physiologically accessible. Drosophila melanogaster provides such a model. In this system, genetically-encoded fluorescent indicators are available to detect Ca2+
changes in nerve terminals. However, these indicators have limited sensitivity to Ca2+
and often show a non-linear response. Synthetic fluorescent indicators are better suited for measuring the rapid Ca2+
changes associated with nerve activity. Here we demonstrate a technique for loading dextran-conjugated synthetic Ca2+
indicators into live nerve terminals in Drosophila larvae. Particular emphasis is placed on those aspects of the protocol most critical to the technique's success, such as how to avoid static electricity discharges along the isolated nerves, maintaining the health of the preparation during extended loading periods, and ensuring axon survival by providing Ca2+
to promote sealing of severed axon endings. Low affinity dextran-conjugated Ca2+
-indicators, such as fluo-4 and rhod, are available which show a high signal-to-noise ratio while minimally disrupting presynaptic Ca2+
dynamics. Dextran-conjugation helps prevent Ca2+
indicators being sequestered into organelles such as mitochondria. The loading technique can be applied equally to larvae, embryos and adults.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Drosophila, neuron, imaging
Visualization of Larval Segmental Nerves in 3rd Instar Drosophila Larval Preparations
Institutions: SUNY-University at Buffalo.
is emerging as a powerful model system for studying the development and function of the nervous system, particularly because of its convenient genetics and fully sequenced genome. Additionally, the larval nervous system is an ideal model system to study mechanisms of axonal transport as the larval segmental nerves contain bundles of axons with their cell bodies located within the brain and their nerve terminals ending along the length of the body. Here we describe the procedure for visualization of synaptic vesicle proteins within larval segmental nerves. If done correctly, all components of the nervous system, along with associated tissues such as muscles and NMJs, remain intact, undamaged, and ready to be visualized. 3rd
instar larvae carrying various mutations are dissected, fixed, incubated with synaptic vesicle antibodies, visualized and compared to wild type larvae. This procedure can be adapted for several different synaptic or neuronal antibodies and changes in the distribution of a variety of proteins can be easily observed within larval segmental nerves.
Developmental Biology, Issue 43, Fluorescence, Microscopy, Drosophila, 3rd instar larvae, larval segmental nerves, axonal transport
Studying Aggression in Drosophila (fruit flies)
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Aggression is an innate behavior that evolved in the framework of defending or obtaining resources. This complex social behavior is influenced by genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. In many organisms, aggression is critical to survival but controlling and suppressing aggression in distinct contexts also has become increasingly important. In recent years, invertebrates have become increasingly useful as model systems for investigating the genetic and systems biological basis of complex social behavior. This is in part due to the diverse repertoire of behaviors exhibited by these organisms. In the accompanying video, we outline a method for analyzing aggression in Drosophila whose design encompasses important eco-ethological constraints. Details include steps for: making a fighting chamber; isolating and painting flies; adding flies to the fight chamber; and video taping fights. This approach is currently being used to identify candidate genes important in aggression and in elaborating the neuronal circuitry that underlies the output of aggression and other social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Drosophila, behavior
Electrophysiological and Morphological Characterization of Neuronal Microcircuits in Acute Brain Slices Using Paired Patch-Clamp Recordings
Institutions: Research Centre Jülich, RWTH Aachen University.
The combination of patch clamp recordings from two (or more) synaptically coupled neurons (paired recordings) in acute brain slice preparations with simultaneous intracellular biocytin filling allows a correlated analysis of their structural and functional properties. With this method it is possible to identify and characterize both pre- and postsynaptic neurons by their morphology and electrophysiological response pattern. Paired recordings allow studying the connectivity patterns between these neurons as well as the properties of both chemical and electrical synaptic transmission. Here, we give a step-by-step description of the procedures required to obtain reliable paired recordings together with an optimal recovery of the neuron morphology. We will describe how pairs of neurons connected via chemical synapses or gap junctions are identified in brain slice preparations. We will outline how neurons are reconstructed to obtain their 3D morphology of the dendritic and axonal domain and how synaptic contacts are identified and localized. We will also discuss the caveats and limitations of the paired recording technique, in particular those associated with dendritic and axonal truncations during the preparation of brain slices because these strongly affect connectivity estimates. However, because of the versatility of the paired recording approach it will remain a valuable tool in characterizing different aspects of synaptic transmission at identified neuronal microcircuits in the brain.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, Patch-clamp, paired recordings, neurons, synaptic connections, gap junctions, biocytin labeling, structure-function correlations
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
RNA-seq Analysis of Transcriptomes in Thrombin-treated and Control Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells
Institutions: Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The characterization of gene expression in cells via measurement of mRNA levels is a useful tool in determining how the transcriptional machinery of the cell is affected by external signals (e.g.
drug treatment), or how cells differ between a healthy state and a diseased state. With the advent and continuous refinement of next-generation DNA sequencing technology, RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) has become an increasingly popular method of transcriptome analysis to catalog all species of transcripts, to determine the transcriptional structure of all expressed genes and to quantify the changing expression levels of the total set of transcripts in a given cell, tissue or organism1,2
. RNA-seq is gradually replacing DNA microarrays as a preferred method for transcriptome analysis because it has the advantages of profiling a complete transcriptome, providing a digital type datum (copy number of any transcript) and not relying on any known genomic sequence3
Here, we present a complete and detailed protocol to apply RNA-seq to profile transcriptomes in human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with or without thrombin treatment. This protocol is based on our recent published study entitled "RNA-seq Reveals Novel Transcriptome of Genes and Their Isoforms in Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells Treated with Thrombin,"4
in which we successfully performed the first complete transcriptome analysis of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin using RNA-seq. It yielded unprecedented resources for further experimentation to gain insights into molecular mechanisms underlying thrombin-mediated endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of inflammatory conditions, cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, and provides potential new leads for therapeutic targets to those diseases.
The descriptive text of this protocol is divided into four parts. The first part describes the treatment of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with thrombin and RNA isolation, quality analysis and quantification. The second part describes library construction and sequencing. The third part describes the data analysis. The fourth part describes an RT-PCR validation assay. Representative results of several key steps are displayed. Useful tips or precautions to boost success in key steps are provided in the Discussion section. Although this protocol uses human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin, it can be generalized to profile transcriptomes in both mammalian and non-mammalian cells and in tissues treated with different stimuli or inhibitors, or to compare transcriptomes in cells or tissues between a healthy state and a disease state.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Medicine, Genomics, Proteins, RNA-seq, Next Generation DNA Sequencing, Transcriptome, Transcription, Thrombin, Endothelial cells, high-throughput, DNA, genomic DNA, RT-PCR, PCR
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
Functional Evaluation of Biological Neurotoxins in Networked Cultures of Stem Cell-derived Central Nervous System Neurons
Institutions: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense.
Therapeutic and mechanistic studies of the presynaptically targeted clostridial neurotoxins (CNTs) have been limited by the need for a scalable, cell-based model that produces functioning synapses and undergoes physiological responses to intoxication. Here we describe a simple and robust method to efficiently differentiate murine embryonic stem cells (ESCs) into defined lineages of synaptically active, networked neurons. Following an 8 day differentiation protocol, mouse embryonic stem cell-derived neurons (ESNs) rapidly express and compartmentalize neurotypic proteins, form neuronal morphologies and develop intrinsic electrical responses. By 18 days after differentiation (DIV 18), ESNs exhibit active glutamatergic and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic synapses and emergent network behaviors characterized by an excitatory:inhibitory balance. To determine whether intoxication with CNTs functionally antagonizes synaptic neurotransmission, thereby replicating the in vivo
pathophysiology that is responsible for clinical manifestations of botulism or tetanus, whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology was used to quantify spontaneous miniature excitatory post-synaptic currents (mEPSCs) in ESNs exposed to tetanus neurotoxin (TeNT) or botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) serotypes /A-/G. In all cases, ESNs exhibited near-complete loss of synaptic activity within 20 hr. Intoxicated neurons remained viable, as demonstrated by unchanged resting membrane potentials and intrinsic electrical responses. To further characterize the sensitivity of this approach, dose-dependent effects of intoxication on synaptic activity were measured 20 hr after addition of BoNT/A. Intoxication with 0.005 pM BoNT/A resulted in a significant decrement in mEPSCs, with a median inhibitory concentration (IC50
) of 0.013 pM. Comparisons of median doses indicate that functional measurements of synaptic inhibition are faster, more specific and more sensitive than SNARE cleavage assays or the mouse lethality assay. These data validate the use of synaptically coupled, stem cell-derived neurons for the highly specific and sensitive detection of CNTs.
Neuroscience, Issue 96, embryonic stem cells, stem cell-derived neurons, botulinum neurotoxin detection, electrophysiology, synapse, neuronal networks, glutamatergic synapse, GABAergic synapse
Dissection and Imaging of Active Zones in the Drosophila Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
larvae neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an excellent model for the study of synaptic structure and function. Drosophila
is well known for the ease of powerful genetic manipulations and the larval nervous system has proven particularly useful in studying not only normal function but also perturbations that accompany some neurological disease (Lloyd and Taylor, 2010). Many key synaptic molecules found in Drosophila
are also found in mammals and like most CNS excitatory synapses in mammals, the Drosophila
NMJ is glutamatergic and demonstrates activity-dependent remodeling (Kohet al.
, 2000). Additionally, Drosophila
neurons can be individually identified because their innervation patterns are stereotyped and repetitive making it possible to study identified synaptic terminals, such as those between motor neurons and the body-wall muscle fibers that they innervate (Keshishian and Kim, 2004). The existence of evolutionarily conserved synapse components along with the ease of genetic and physical manipulation make the Drosophila
model ideal for investigating the mechanisms underlying synaptic function (Budnik, 1996).
The active zones at synaptic terminals are of particular interest because these are the sites of neurotransmitter release. NC82 is a monoclonal antibody that recognizes the Drosophila
protein Bruchpilot (Brp), a CAST1/ERC family member that is an important component of the active zone (Waghet al.
, 2006). Brp was shown to directly shape the active zone T-bar and is responsible for effectively clustering Ca2+
channels beneath the T-bar density (Fouquetet al.
, 2009). Mutants of Brp have reduced Ca2+
channel density, depressed evoked vesicle release, and altered short-term plasticity (Kittelet al.
, 2006). Alterations to active zones have been observed in Drosophila
disease models. For example, immunofluorescence using the NC82 antibody showed that the active zone density was decreased in models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Pitt-Hopkins syndrome (Ratnaparkhiet al.
, 2008; Zweieret al.
, 2009). Thus, evaluation of active zones, or other synaptic proteins, in Drosophila
larvae models of disease may provide a valuable initial clue to the presence of a synaptic defect.
Preparing whole-mount dissected Drosophila
larvae for immunofluorescence analysis of the NMJ requires some skill, but can be accomplished by most scientists with a little practice. Presented is a method that provides for multiple larvae to be dissected and immunostained in the same dissection dish, limiting environmental differences between each genotype and providing sufficient animals for confidence in reproducibility and statistical analysis.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Neuromuscular junction (NMJ), Drosophila, active zone, dissection, larva, Bruchpilot (Brp), NC82
Acquisition of High-Quality Digital Video of Drosophila Larval and Adult Behaviors from a Lateral Perspective
Institutions: Willamette University.
is a powerful experimental model system for studying the function of the nervous system. Gene mutations that cause dysfunction of the nervous system often produce viable larvae and adults that have locomotion defective phenotypes that are difficult to adequately describe with text or completely represent with a single photographic image. Current modes of scientific publishing, however, support the submission of digital video media as supplemental material to accompany a manuscript. Here we describe a simple and widely accessible microscopy technique for acquiring high-quality digital video of both Drosophila
larval and adult phenotypes from a lateral perspective. Video of larval and adult locomotion from a side-view is advantageous because it allows the observation and analysis of subtle distinctions and variations in aberrant locomotive behaviors. We have successfully used the technique to visualize and quantify aberrant crawling behaviors in third instar larvae, in addition to adult mutant phenotypes and behaviors including grooming.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Drosophila, behavior, coordination, crawling, locomotion, nervous system, neurodegeneration, larva
Preparation of Neuronal Cultures from Midgastrula Stage Drosophila Embryos
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
This video illustrates the procedure for making primary neuronal cultures from midgastrula stage Drosophila embryos. The methods for collecting embryos and their dechorionation using bleach are demonstrated. Using a glass pipet attached to a mouth suction tube, we illustrate the removal of all cells from single embryos. The method for dispersing cells from each embyro into a small (5 l) drop of medium on an uncoated glass coverslip is demonstrated. A view through the microscope at 1 hour after plating illustrates the preferred cell density. Most of the cells that survive when grown in defined medium are neuroblasts that divide one or more times in culture before extending neuritic processes by 12-24 hours. A view through the microscope illustrates the level of neurite outgrowth and branching expected in a healthy culture at 2 days in vitro. The cultures are grown in a simple bicarbonate based defined medium, in a 5% CO2
incubator at 22-24°C. Neuritic processes continue to elaborate over the first week in culture and when they make contact with neurites from neighboring cells they often form functional synaptic connections. Neurons in these cultures express voltage-gated sodium, calcium, and potassium channels and are electrically excitable. This culture system is useful for studying molecular genetic and environmental factors that regulate neuronal differentiation, excitability, and synapse formation/function.
Neuroscience, Issue 5, neuronal culture, insects, Drosophila, embryo, primary neurons, defined medium
Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The encoding of experiences in the brain and the consolidation of long-term memories depend on gene transcription. Identifying the function of specific genes in encoding experience is one of the main objectives of molecular neuroscience. Furthermore, the functional association of defined genes with specific behaviors has implications for understanding the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. Induction of robust transcription programs has been observed in the brains of mice following various behavioral manipulations. While some genetic elements are utilized recurrently following different behavioral manipulations and in different brain nuclei, transcriptional programs are overall unique to the inducing stimuli and the structure in which they are studied1,2
In this publication, a protocol is described for robust and comprehensive transcriptional profiling from brain nuclei of mice in response to behavioral manipulation. The protocol is demonstrated in the context of analysis of gene expression dynamics in the nucleus accumbens following acute cocaine experience. Subsequent to a defined in vivo
experience, the target neural tissue is dissected; followed by RNA purification, reverse transcription and utilization of microfluidic arrays for comprehensive qPCR analysis of multiple target genes. This protocol is geared towards comprehensive analysis (addressing 50-500 genes) of limiting quantities of starting material, such as small brain samples or even single cells.
The protocol is most advantageous for parallel analysis of multiple samples (e.g.
single cells, dynamic analysis following pharmaceutical, viral or behavioral perturbations). However, the protocol could also serve for the characterization and quality assurance of samples prior to whole-genome studies by microarrays or RNAseq, as well as validation of data obtained from whole-genome studies.
Behavior, Issue 90,
Brain, behavior, RNA, transcription, nucleus accumbens, cocaine, high-throughput qPCR, experience-dependent plasticity, gene regulatory networks, microdissection
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
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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
Rapid Genotyping of Animals Followed by Establishing Primary Cultures of Brain Neurons
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EZ BioResearch LLC.
High-resolution analysis of the morphology and function of mammalian neurons often requires the genotyping of individual animals followed by the analysis of primary cultures of neurons. We describe a set of procedures for: labeling newborn mice to be genotyped, rapid genotyping, and establishing low-density cultures of brain neurons from these mice. Individual mice are labeled by tattooing, which allows for long-term identification lasting into adulthood. Genotyping by the described protocol is fast and efficient, and allows for automated extraction of nucleic acid with good reliability. This is useful under circumstances where sufficient time for conventional genotyping is not available, e.g.,
in mice that suffer from neonatal lethality. Primary neuronal cultures are generated at low density, which enables imaging experiments at high spatial resolution. This culture method requires the preparation of glial feeder layers prior to neuronal plating. The protocol is applied in its entirety to a mouse model of the movement disorder DYT1 dystonia (ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice), and neuronal cultures are prepared from the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and striatum of these mice. This protocol can be applied to mice with other genetic mutations, as well as to animals of other species. Furthermore, individual components of the protocol can be used for isolated sub-projects. Thus this protocol will have wide applications, not only in neuroscience but also in other fields of biological and medical sciences.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, AP2, genotyping, glial feeder layer, mouse tail, neuronal culture, nucleic-acid extraction, PCR, tattoo, torsinA
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
Acquisition of a High-precision Skilled Forelimb Reaching Task in Rats
Institutions: University of Zurich, ETH Zurich, University of Zurich & University Hospital Zurich.
Movements are the main measurable output of central nervous system function. Developing behavioral paradigms that allow detailed analysis of motor learning and execution is of critical importance in order to understand the principles and processes that underlie motor function. Here we present a paradigm to study movement acquisition within a daily session of training (within-session) representing the fast learning component and primary acquisition as well as skilled motor learning over several training sessions (between-session) representing the slow learning component and consolidation of the learned task. This behavioral paradigm increases the degree of difficulty and complexity of the motor skill task due to two features: First, the animal realigns its body prior to each pellet retrieval forcing renewed orientation and preventing movement execution from the same angle. Second, pellets are grasped from a vertical post that matches the diameter of the pellet and is placed in front of the cage. This requires a precise grasp for successful pellet retrieval and thus prevents simple pulling of the pellet towards the animal. In combination with novel genetics, imaging and electrophysiological technologies, this behavioral method will aid to understand the morphological, anatomical and molecular underpinnings of motor learning and memory.
Behavior, Issue 100, Motor Learning, Rat, Skilled Reaching Task, Single Pellet Grasping, Procedural Learning
An Optogenetic Approach for Assessing Formation of Neuronal Connections in a Co-culture System
Institutions: Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Nanyang Technological University.
Here we describe a protocol to generate a co-culture consisting of 2 different neuronal populations. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are reprogrammed from human fibroblasts using episomal vectors. Colonies of iPSCs can be observed 30 days after initiation of fibroblast reprogramming. Pluripotent colonies are manually picked and grown in neural induction medium to permit differentiation into neural progenitor cells (NPCs). iPSCs rapidly convert into neuroepithelial cells within 1 week and retain the capability to self-renew when maintained at a high culture density. Primary mouse NPCs are differentiated into astrocytes by exposure to a serum-containing medium for 7 days and form a monolayer upon which embryonic day 18 (E18) rat cortical neurons (transfected with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)) are added. Human NPCs tagged with the fluorescent protein, tandem dimer Tomato (tdTomato), are then seeded onto the astrocyte/cortical neuron culture the following day and allowed to differentiate for 28 to 35 days. We demonstrate that this system forms synaptic connections between iPSC-derived neurons and cortical neurons, evident from an increase in the frequency of synaptic currents upon photostimulation of the cortical neurons. This co-culture system provides a novel platform for evaluating the ability of iPSC-derived neurons to create synaptic connections with other neuronal populations.
Developmental Biology, Issue 96, Neuroscience, Channelrhodopsin-2, Co-culture, Neurons, Astrocytes, induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, Neural progenitors, Differentiation, Cell culture, Cortex