Information coding in the Central Nervous System (CNS) remains unexplored. There is mounting evidence that, even at a very low level, the representation of a given stimulus might be dependent on context and history. If this is actually the case, bi-directional interactions between the brain (or if need be a reduced model of it) and sensory-motor system can shed a light on how encoding and decoding of information is performed. Here an experimental system is introduced and described in which the activity of a neuronal element (i.e., a network of neurons extracted from embryonic mammalian hippocampi) is given context and used to control the movement of an artificial agent, while environmental information is fed back to the culture as a sequence of electrical stimuli. This architecture allows a quick selection of diverse encoding, decoding, and learning algorithms to test different hypotheses on the computational properties of neuronal networks.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Homarus Americanus Stomatogastric Nervous System Dissection
With the goal of understanding how nervous systems produce activity and respond to the environment, neuroscientists turn to model systems that exhibit the activity of interest and are accessible and amenable to experimental methods. The stomatogastric nervous system (STNS) of the American lobster (Homarus americanus
; also know was the Atlantic or Maine lobster) has been established as a model system for studying rhythm generating networks and neuromodulation of networks. The STNS consists of 3 anterior ganglia (2 commissural ganglia and an oesophageal ganglion), containing modulatory neurons that project centrally to the stomatogastric ganglion (STG). The STG contains approximately 30 neurons that comprise two central pattern generating networks, the pyloric and gastric networks that underlie feeding behaviors in crustaceans1,2
. While it is possible to study this system in vivo3
, the STNS continues to produce its rhythmic activity when isolated in vitro
. Physical isolation of the STNS in a dish allows for easy access to the somata in the ganglia for intracellular electrophysiological recordings and to the nerves of the STNS for extracellular recordings. Isolating the STNS is a two-part process. The first part, dissecting the stomach from the animal, is described in an accompanying video article4
. In this video article, fine dissection techniques are used to isolate the STNS from the stomach. This procedure results in a nervous system preparation that is available for electrophysiological recordings.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, lobster, stomach, neural network, dissection, central pattern generator
Cancer Borealis Stomatogastric Nervous System Dissection
The stomatogastric ganglion (STG) is an excellent model for studying cellular and network interactions because it contains a relatively small number of cells (approximately 25 in C. borealis
) which are well characterized. The cells in the STG exhibit a broad range of outputs and are responsible for the motor actions of the stomach. The stomach contains the gastric mill which breaks down food with three internal teeth, and the pylorus which filters the food before it reaches the midgut. The STG produces two rhythmic outputs to control the gastric mill and pylorus known as central pattern generators (CPGs). Each cell in the STG can participate in one or both of these rhythms. These CPGs allow for the study of neuromodulation, homeostasis, cellular and network variability, network development, and network recovery.
The dissection of the stomatogastric nervous system (STNS) from the Jonah crab (Cancer borealis
) is done in two parts; the gross and fine dissection. In the gross dissection the entire stomach is dissected from the crab. During the fine dissection the STNS is extracted from the stomach using a dissection microscope and micro-dissection tools (see figure 1). The STNS includes the STG, the oesophageal ganglion (OG), and the commissural ganglia (CoG) as well as the nerves that innervate the stomach muscles. Here, we show how to perform a complete dissection of the STNS in preparation for an electrophysiology experiment where the cells in the STG would be recorded from intracellularly and the peripheral nerves would be used for extracellular recordings. The proper technique for finding the desired nerves is shown as well as our technique of desheathing the ganglion to reveal the somata and neuropil.
neuroscience, Issue 25, STG, crab, STNS, neural network, central pattern generator, CPG
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
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
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Affinity-based Isolation of Tagged Nuclei from Drosophila Tissues for Gene Expression Analysis
Institutions: Purdue University.
embryonic and larval tissues often contain a highly heterogeneous mixture of cell types, which can complicate the analysis of gene expression in these tissues. Thus, to analyze cell-specific gene expression profiles from Drosophila
tissues, it may be necessary to isolate specific cell types with high purity and at sufficient yields for downstream applications such as transcriptional profiling and chromatin immunoprecipitation. However, the irregular cellular morphology in tissues such as the central nervous system, coupled with the rare population of specific cell types in these tissues, can pose challenges for traditional methods of cell isolation such as laser microdissection and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). Here, an alternative approach to characterizing cell-specific gene expression profiles using affinity-based isolation of tagged nuclei, rather than whole cells, is described. Nuclei in the specific cell type of interest are genetically labeled with a nuclear envelope-localized EGFP tag using the Gal4/UAS binary expression system. These EGFP-tagged nuclei can be isolated using antibodies against GFP that are coupled to magnetic beads. The approach described in this protocol enables consistent isolation of nuclei from specific cell types in the Drosophila
larval central nervous system at high purity and at sufficient levels for expression analysis, even when these cell types comprise less than 2% of the total cell population in the tissue. This approach can be used to isolate nuclei from a wide variety of Drosophila
embryonic and larval cell types using specific Gal4 drivers, and may be useful for isolating nuclei from cell types that are not suitable for FACS or laser microdissection.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, Gene Expression, nuclei isolation, Drosophila, KASH, GFP, cell-type specific
Proprioception and Tension Receptors in Crab Limbs: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky, University of Oregon.
The primary purpose of these procedures is to demonstrate for teaching and research purposes how to record the activity of living primary sensory neurons responsible for proprioception as they are detecting joint position and movement, and muscle tension. Electrical activity from crustacean proprioceptors and tension receptors is recorded by basic neurophysiological instrumentation, and a transducer is used to simultaneously measure force that is generated by stimulating a motor nerve. In addition, we demonstrate how to stain the neurons for a quick assessment of their anatomical arrangement or for permanent fixation. Staining reveals anatomical organization that is representative of chordotonal organs in most crustaceans. Comparing the tension nerve responses to the proprioceptive responses is an effective teaching tool in determining how these sensory neurons are defined functionally and how the anatomy is correlated to the function. Three staining techniques are presented allowing researchers and instructors to choose a method that is ideal for their laboratory.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Crustacean, joint, Muscle, sensory, teaching, educational, neuroscience
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
Electrophysiological Recording From Drosophila Labellar Taste Sensilla
Institutions: Yale University.
The peripheral taste response of insects can be powerfully investigated with electrophysiological techniques. The method described here allows the researcher to measure gustatory responses directly and quantitatively, reflecting the sensory input that the insect nervous system receives from taste stimuli in its environment. This protocol outlines all key steps in performing this technique. The critical steps in assembling an electrophysiology rig, such as selection of necessary equipment and a suitable environment for recording, are delineated. We also describe how to prepare for recording by making appropriate reference and recording electrodes, and tastant solutions. We describe in detail the method used for preparing the insect by insertion of a glass reference electrode into the fly in order to immobilize the proboscis. We show traces of the electrical impulses fired by taste neurons in response to a sugar and a bitter compound. Aspects of the protocol are technically challenging and we include an extensive description of some common technical challenges that may be encountered, such as lack of signal or excessive noise in the system, and potential solutions. The technique has limitations, such as the inability to deliver temporally complex stimuli, observe background firing immediately prior to stimulus delivery, or use water-insoluble taste compounds conveniently. Despite these limitations, this technique (including minor variations referenced in the protocol) is a standard, broadly accepted procedure for recording Drosophila
neuronal responses to taste compounds.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Drosophila, insect, taste, neuron, electrophysiology, labellum, extracellular recording, labellar taste sensilla
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
Optical Imaging of Neurons in the Crab Stomatogastric Ganglion with Voltage-sensitive Dyes
Institutions: Ulm University, Newcastle University.
Voltage-sensitive dye imaging of neurons is a key methodology for the understanding of how neuronal networks are organised and how the simultaneous activity of participating neurons leads to the emergence of the integral functionality of the network. Here we present the methodology of application of this technique to identified pattern generating neurons in the crab stomatogastric ganglion. We demonstrate the loading of these neurons with the fluorescent voltage-sensitive dye Di-8-ANEPPQ and we show how to image the activity of dye loaded neurons using the MiCAM02 high speed and high resolution CCD camera imaging system. We demonstrate the analysis of the recorded imaging data using the BVAna imaging software associated with the MiCAM02 imaging system. The simultaneous voltage-sensitive dye imaging of the detailed activity of multiple neurons in the crab stomatogastric ganglion applied together with traditional electrophysiology techniques (intracellular and extracellular recordings) opens radically new opportunities for the understanding of how central pattern generator neural networks work.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, stomatogastric ganglion, voltage sensitive dye, neuron resolution imaging, central pattern generator
Application of a NMDA Receptor Conductance in Rat Midbrain Dopaminergic Neurons Using the Dynamic Clamp Technique
Institutions: University of Texas San Antonio - UTSA.
Neuroscientists study the function of the brain by investigating how neurons in the brain communicate. Many investigators look at changes in the electrical activity of one or more neurons in response to an experimentally-controlled input. The electrical activity of neurons can be recorded in isolated brain slices using patch clamp techniques with glass micropipettes. Traditionally, experimenters can mimic neuronal input by direct injection of current through the pipette, electrical stimulation of the other cells or remaining axonal connections in the slice, or pharmacological manipulation by receptors located on the neuronal membrane of the recorded cell.
Direct current injection has the advantages of passing a predetermined current waveform with high temporal precision at the site of the recording (usually the soma). However, it does not change the resistance of the neuronal membrane as no ion channels are physically opened. Current injection usually employs rectangular pulses and thus does not model the kinetics of ion channels. Finally, current injection cannot mimic the chemical changes in the cell that occurs with the opening of ion channels.
Receptors can be physically activated by electrical or pharmacological stimulation. The experimenter has good temporal precision of receptor activation with electrical stimulation of the slice. However, there is limited spatial precision of receptor activation and the exact nature of what is activated upon stimulation is unknown. This latter problem can be partially alleviated by specific pharmacological agents. Unfortunately, the time course of activation of pharmacological agents is typically slow and the spatial precision of inputs onto the recorded cell is unknown.
The dynamic clamp technique allows an experimenter to change the current passed directly into the cell based on real-time feedback of the membrane potential of the cell (Robinson and Kawai 1993, Sharp et al.
, 1993a,b; for review, see Prinz et al.
2004). This allows an experimenter to mimic the electrical changes that occur at the site of the recording in response to activation of a receptor. Real-time changes in applied current are determined by a mathematical equation implemented in hardware.
We have recently used the dynamic clamp technique to investigate the generation of bursts of action potentials by phasic activation of NMDA receptors in dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta (Deister et al.
, 2009; Lobb et al.
, 2010). In this video, we demonstrate the procedures needed to apply a NMDA receptor conductance into a dopaminergic neuron.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, electrophysiology, dynamic clamp, rat, dopamine, burst, RTXI
Aplysia Ganglia Preparation for Electrophysiological and Molecular Analyses of Single Neurons
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, Florida.
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
Neurobiology, Issue 83, intracellular recording, identified neuron, neural circuitry, gene expression, action potential, CREB, Aplysia californica, genomics
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
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Utilization of Microscale Silicon Cantilevers to Assess Cellular Contractile Function In Vitro
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
The development of more predictive and biologically relevant in vitro
assays is predicated on the advancement of versatile cell culture systems which facilitate the functional assessment of the seeded cells. To that end, microscale cantilever technology offers a platform with which to measure the contractile functionality of a range of cell types, including skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle cells, through assessment of contraction induced substrate bending. Application of multiplexed cantilever arrays provides the means to develop moderate to high-throughput protocols for assessing drug efficacy and toxicity, disease phenotype and progression, as well as neuromuscular and other cell-cell interactions. This manuscript provides the details for fabricating reliable cantilever arrays for this purpose, and the methods required to successfully culture cells on these surfaces. Further description is provided on the steps necessary to perform functional analysis of contractile cell types maintained on such arrays using a novel laser and photo-detector system. The representative data provided highlights the precision and reproducible nature of the analysis of contractile function possible using this system, as well as the wide range of studies to which such technology can be applied. Successful widespread adoption of this system could provide investigators with the means to perform rapid, low cost functional studies in vitro,
leading to more accurate predictions of tissue performance, disease development and response to novel therapeutic treatment.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cantilever, in vitro, contraction, skeletal muscle, NMJ, cardiomyocytes, functional
Design and Fabrication of Ultralight Weight, Adjustable Multi-electrode Probes for Electrophysiological Recordings in Mice
Institutions: New York University Langone Medical Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The number of physiological investigations in the mouse, mus musculus
, has experienced a recent surge, paralleling the growth in methods of genetic targeting for microcircuit dissection and disease modeling. The introduction of optogenetics, for example, has allowed for bidirectional manipulation of genetically-identified neurons, at an unprecedented temporal resolution. To capitalize on these tools and gain insight into dynamic interactions among brain microcircuits, it is essential that one has the ability to record from ensembles of neurons deep within the brain of this small rodent, in both head-fixed and freely behaving preparations. To record from deep structures and distinct cell layers requires a preparation that allows precise advancement of electrodes towards desired brain regions. To record neural ensembles, it is necessary that each electrode be independently movable, allowing the experimenter to resolve individual cells while leaving neighboring electrodes undisturbed. To do both in a freely behaving mouse requires an electrode drive that is lightweight, resilient, and highly customizable for targeting specific brain structures.
A technique for designing and fabricating miniature, ultralight weight, microdrive electrode arrays that are individually customizable and easily assembled from commercially available parts is presented. These devices are easily scalable and can be customized to the structure being targeted; it has been used successfully to record from thalamic and cortical regions in a freely behaving animal during natural behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, multi-electrode, micro-drives, electrophysiology, single units, brain circuit recording, deep brain structure