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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
ALS - Motor Neuron Disease: Mechanism and Development of New Therapies
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Medicine, Issue 6, Translational Research, Neuroscience, ALS, stem cells, brain, neuron, upper motor neuron, transplantation
Paradigms for Pharmacological Characterization of C. elegans Synaptic Transmission Mutants
Institutions: University of Alabama.
The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, has become an expedient model for studying neurotransmission. C. elegans is unique among animal models, as the anatomy and connectivity of its nervous system has been determined from electron micrographs and refined by pharmacological assays. In this video, we describe how two complementary neural stimulants, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, called aldicarb, and a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonist, called pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), may be employed to specifically characterize signaling at C. elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and facilitate our understanding of antagonistic neural circuits.
Of 302 C. elegans neurons, nineteen GABAergic D-type motor neurons innervate body wall muscles (BWMs), while four GABAergic neurons, called RMEs, innervate head muscles. Conversely, thirty-nine motor neurons express the excitatory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh), and antagonize GABA transmission at BWMs to coordinate locomotion. The antagonistic nature of GABAergic and cholinergic motor neurons at body wall NMJs was initially determined by laser ablation and later buttressed by aldicarb exposure. Acute aldicarb exposure results in a time-course or dose-responsive paralysis in wild-type worms. Yet, loss of excitatory ACh transmission confers resistance to aldicarb, as less ACh accumulates at worm NMJs, leading to less stimulation of BWMs. Resistance to aldicarb may be observed with ACh-specific or general synaptic function mutants. Consistent with antagonistic GABA and ACh transmission, loss of GABA transmission, or a failure to negatively regulate ACh release, confers hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Although aldicarb exposure has led to the isolation of numerous worm homologs of neurotransmission genes, aldicarb exposure alone cannot efficiently determine prevailing roles for genes and pathways in specific C. elegans motor neurons. For this purpose, we have introduced a complementary experimental approach, which uses PTZ.
Neurotransmission mutants display clear phenotypes, distinct from aldicarb-induced paralysis, in response to PTZ. Wild-type worms, as well as mutants with specific inabilities to release or receive ACh, do not show apparent sensitivity to PTZ. However, GABA mutants, as well as general synaptic function mutants, display anterior convulsions in a time-course or dose-responsive manner. Mutants that cannot negatively regulate general neurotransmitter release and, thus, secrete excessive amounts of ACh onto BWMs, become paralyzed on PTZ. The PTZ-induced phenotypes of discrete mutant classes indicate that a complementary approach with aldicarb and PTZ exposure paradigms in C. elegans may accelerate our understanding of neurotransmission. Moreover, videos demonstrating how we perform pharmacological assays should establish consistent methods for C. elegans research.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, epilepsy, seizure, Caenorhabditis elegans, genetics, worm, nematode, aldicarb, pentylenetetrazole, synaptic, GABA
The Ladder Rung Walking Task: A Scoring System and its Practical Application.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Progress in the development of animal models for/stroke, spinal cord injury, and other neurodegenerative disease requires tests of high sensitivity to elaborate distinct aspects of motor function and to determine even subtle loss of movement capacity. To enhance efficacy and resolution of testing, tests should permit qualitative and quantitative measures of motor function and be sensitive to changes in performance during recovery periods. The present study describes a new task to assess skilled walking in the rat to measure both forelimb and hindlimb function at the same time. Animals are required to walk along a horizontal ladder on which the spacing of the rungs is variable and is periodically changed. Changes in rung spacing prevent animals from learning the absolute and relative location of the rungs and so minimize the ability of the animals to compensate for impairments through learning. In addition, changing the spacing between the rungs allows the test to be used repeatedly in long-term studies. Methods are described for both quantitative and qualitative description of both fore- and hindlimb performance, including limb placing, stepping, co-ordination. Furthermore, use of compensatory strategies is indicated by missteps or compensatory steps in response to another limb’s misplacement.
Neuroscience, Issue 28, rat, animal model of walking, skilled movement, ladder test, rung test, neuroscience
Drosophila Larval NMJ Dissection
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an established model system used for the study of synaptic development and plasticity. The widespread use of the Drosophila
motor system is due to its high accessibility. It can be analyzed with single-cell resolution. There are 30 muscles per hemisegment whose arrangement within the peripheral body wall are known. A total of 35 motor neurons attach to these muscles in a pattern that has high fidelity. Using molecular biology and genetics, one can create transgenic animals or mutants. Then, one can study the developmental consequences on the morphology and function of the NMJ. In order to access the NMJ for study, it is necessary to carefully dissect each larva. In this article we demonstrate how to properly dissect Drosophila
larvae for study of the NMJ by removing all internal organs while leaving the body wall intact. This technique is suitable to prepare larvae for imaging, immunohistochemistry, or electrophysiology.
Developmental Biology, Issue 24, NMJ, Drosophila, Larvae, Immunohistochemistry, Neuroscienc
Paired Patch Clamp Recordings from Motor-neuron and Target Skeletal Muscle in Zebrafish
Institutions: Oregon Health and Sciences University.
Larval zebrafish represent the first vertebrate model system to allow simultaneous patch clamp recording from a spinal motor-neuron and target muscle. This is a direct consequence of the accessibility to both cell types and ability to visually distinguish the single segmental CaP motor-neuron on the basis of morphology and location. This video demonstrates the microscopic methods used to identify a CaP motor-neuron and target muscle cells as well as the methodologies for recording from each cell type. Identification of the CaP motor-neuron type is confirmed by either dye filling or by the biophysical features such as action potential waveform and cell input resistance. Motor-neuron recordings routinely last for one hour permitting long-term recordings from multiple different target muscle cells. Control over the motor-neuron firing pattern enables measurements of the frequency-dependence of synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction. Owing to a large quantal size and the low noise provided by whole cell voltage clamp, all of the unitary events can be resolved in muscle. This feature permits study of basic synaptic properties such as release properties, vesicle recycling, as well as synaptic depression and facilitation. The advantages offered by this in vivo
preparation eclipse previous neuromuscular model systems studied wherein the motor-neurons are usually stimulated by extracellular electrodes and the muscles are too large for whole cell patch clamp. The zebrafish preparation is amenable to combining electrophysiological analysis with a wide range of approaches including transgenic lines, morpholino knockdown, pharmacological intervention and in vivo
imaging. These approaches, coupled with the growing number of neuromuscular disease models provided by mutant lines of zebrafish, open the door for new understanding of human neuromuscular disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Zebrafish, synapse, electrophysiology, patch clamp, acetylcholine receptor, neuromuscular, cholinergic/action potential, myasthenic syndrome, motor control
Drosophila Larval NMJ Immunohistochemistry
Institutions: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an established model system used for the study of synaptic development and plasticity. The widespread use of the Drosophila
motor system is due to its high accessibility. It can be analyzed with single-cell resolution. There are 30 muscles per hemisegment whose arrangement within the peripheral body wall are known. A total of 31 motor neurons attach to these muscles in a pattern that has high fidelity. Using molecular biology and genetics, one can create transgenic animals or mutants. Then, one can study the developmental consequences on the morphology and function of the NMJ. Immunohistochemistry can be used to clearly image the components of the NMJ. In this article, we demonstrate how to use antibody staining to visualize the Drosophila
Developmental Biology, Issue 25, NMJ, Drosophila, Larvae, Immunohistochemistry, Neuroscience
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
Environmental Modulations of the Number of Midbrain Dopamine Neurons in Adult Mice
Institutions: The University of Melbourne.
Long-lasting changes in the brain or ‘brain plasticity’ underlie adaptive behavior and brain repair following disease or injury. Furthermore, interactions with our environment can induce brain plasticity. Increasingly, research is trying to identify which environments stimulate brain plasticity beneficial for treating brain and behavioral disorders. Two environmental manipulations are described which increase or decrease the number of tyrosine hydroxylase immunopositive (TH+, the rate-limiting enzyme in dopamine (DA) synthesis) neurons in the adult mouse midbrain. The first comprises pairing male and female mice together continuously for 1 week, which increases midbrain TH+ neurons by approximately 12% in males, but decreases midbrain TH+ neurons by approximately 12% in females. The second comprises housing mice continuously for 2 weeks in ‘enriched environments’ (EE) containing running wheels, toys, ropes, nesting material, etc., which increases midbrain TH+ neurons by approximately 14% in males. Additionally, a protocol is described for concurrently infusing drugs directly into the midbrain during these environmental manipulations to help identify mechanisms underlying environmentally-induced brain plasticity. For example, EE-induction of more midbrain TH+ neurons is abolished by concurrent blockade of synaptic input onto midbrain neurons. Together, these data indicate that information about the environment is relayed via synaptic input to midbrain neurons to switch on or off expression of ‘DA’ genes. Thus, appropriate environmental stimulation, or drug targeting of the underlying mechanisms, might be helpful for treating brain and behavioral disorders associated with imbalances in midbrain DA (e.g.
Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, and drug addiction).
Neuroscience, Issue 95, Behavior, midbrain, tyrosine hydroxylase, dopamine, plasticity, substantia nigra pars compacta
Construction of Vapor Chambers Used to Expose Mice to Alcohol During the Equivalent of all Three Trimesters of Human Development
Institutions: University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Exposure to alcohol during development can result in a constellation of morphological and behavioral abnormalities that are collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). At the most severe end of the spectrum is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth retardation, craniofacial dysmorphology, and neurobehavioral deficits. Studies with animal models, including rodents, have elucidated many molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in the pathophysiology of FASDs. Ethanol administration to pregnant rodents has been used to model human exposure during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Third trimester ethanol consumption in humans has been modeled using neonatal rodents. However, few rodent studies have characterized the effect of ethanol exposure during the equivalent to all three trimesters of human pregnancy, a pattern of exposure that is common in pregnant women. Here, we show how to build vapor chambers from readily obtainable materials that can each accommodate up to six standard mouse cages. We describe a vapor chamber paradigm that can be used to model exposure to ethanol, with minimal handling, during all three trimesters. Our studies demonstrate that pregnant dams developed significant metabolic tolerance to ethanol. However, neonatal mice did not develop metabolic tolerance and the number of fetuses, fetus weight, placenta weight, number of pups/litter, number of dead pups/litter, and pup weight were not significantly affected by ethanol exposure. An important advantage of this paradigm is its applicability to studies with genetically-modified mice. Additionally, this paradigm minimizes handling of animals, a major confound in fetal alcohol research.
Medicine, Issue 89, fetal, ethanol, exposure, paradigm, vapor, development, alcoholism, teratogenic, animal, mouse, model
Live Imaging of Nicotine Induced Calcium Signaling and Neurotransmitter Release Along Ventral Hippocampal Axons
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook University.
Sustained enhancement of axonal signaling and increased neurotransmitter release by the activation of pre-synaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) is an important mechanism for neuromodulation by acetylcholine (ACh). The difficulty with access to probing the signaling mechanisms within intact axons and at nerve terminals both in vitro
and in vivo
has limited progress in the study of the pre-synaptic components of synaptic plasticity. Here we introduce a gene-chimeric preparation of ventral hippocampal (vHipp)–accumbens (nAcc) circuit in vitro
that allows direct live imaging to analyze both the pre- and post-synaptic components of transmission while selectively varying the genetic profile of the pre- vs post-synaptic neurons. We demonstrate that projections from vHipp microslices, as pre-synaptic axonal input, form multiple, reliable glutamatergic synapses with post-synaptic targets, the dispersed neurons from nAcc. The pre-synaptic localization of various subtypes of nAChRs are detected and the pre-synaptic nicotinic signaling mediated synaptic transmission are monitored by concurrent electrophysiological recording and live cell imaging. This preparation also provides an informative approach to study the pre- and post-synaptic mechanisms of glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in vitro
Neuroscience, Issue 100, nicotine, nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, calcium imaging, presynaptic axons, neurotransmitter release, synaptic transmission
Clinical Testing and Spinal Cord Removal in a Mouse Model for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Institutions: University Medicine Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder resulting in progressive degeneration of motoneurons. Peak of onset is around 60 years for the sporadic disease and around 50 years for the familial disease. Due to its progressive course, 50% of the patients die within 30 months of symptom onset. In order to evaluate novel treatment options for this disease, genetic mouse models of ALS have been generated based on human familial mutations in the SOD gene, such as the SOD1 (G93A) mutation. Most important aspects that have to be evaluated in the model are overall survival, clinical course and motor function. Here, we demonstrate the clinical evaluation, show the conduction of two behavioural motor tests and provide quantitative scoring systems for all parameters. Because an in depth analysis of the ALS mouse model usually requires an immunohistochemical examination of the spinal cord, we demonstrate its preparation in detail applying the dorsal laminectomy method. Exemplary histological findings are demonstrated. The comprehensive application of the depicted examination methods in studies on the mouse model of ALS will enable the researcher to reliably test future therapeutic options which can provide a basis for later human clinical trials.
Medicine, Issue 61, neuroscience, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, spinal cord, mouse, rotarod, hanging wire
The Structure of Skilled Forelimb Reaching in the Rat: A Movement Rating Scale
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Skilled reaching for food is an evolutionary ancient act and is displayed by many animal species, including those in the sister clades of rodents and primates. The video describes a test situation that allows filming of repeated acts of reaching for food by the rat that has been mildly food deprived. A rat is trained to reach through a slot in a holding box for food pellet that it grasps and then places in its mouth for eating. Reaching is accomplished in the main by proximally driven movements of the limb but distal limb movements are used for pronating the paw, grasping the food, and releasing the food into the mouth. Each reach is divided into at least 10 movements of the forelimb and the reaching act is facilitated by postural adjustments. Each of the movements is described and examples of the movements are given from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Because the reaching act for the rat is very similar to that displayed by humans and nonhuman primates, the scale can be used for comparative purposes. from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation.
Experiments on animals were performed in accordance with the guidelines and regulations set forth by the University of Lethbridge Animal Care Committee in accordance with the regulations of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, rat skilled reaching, rat reaching scale, rat, rat movement element rating scale, reaching elements
Assessment of Motor Balance and Coordination in Mice using the Balance Beam
Institutions: California Institute of Technology.
Brain injury, genetic manipulations, and pharmacological treatments can result in alterations of motor skills in mice. Fine motor coordination and balance can be assessed by the beam walking assay. The goal of this test is for the mouse to stay upright and walk across an elevated narrow beam to a safe platform. This test takes place over 3 consecutive days: 2 days of training and 1 day of testing. Performance on the beam is quantified by measuring the time it takes for the mouse to traverse the beam and the number of paw slips that occur in the process. Here we report the protocol used in our laboratory, and representative results from a cohort of C57BL/6 mice. This task is particularly useful for detecting subtle deficits in motor skills and balance that may not be detected by other motor tests, such as the Rotarod.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, motor skills, coordination, balance beam test, mouse behavior
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
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
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
Preparation of Aplysia Sensory-motor Neuronal Cell Cultures
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
The nervous system of the marine mollusk Aplysia californica
is relatively simple, consisting of approximately 20,000 neurons. The neurons are large (up to 1 mm in diameter) and identifiable, with distinct sizes, shapes, positions and pigmentations, and the cell bodies are externally exposed in five paired ganglia distributed throughout the body of the animal. These properties have allowed investigators to delineate the circuitry underlying specific behaviors in the animal1
. The monosynaptic connection between sensory and motor neurons is a central component of the gill-withdrawal reflex in the animal, a simple defensive reflex in which the animal withdraws its gill in response to tactile stimulation of the siphon. This reflex undergoes forms of non-associative and associative learning, including sensitization, habituation and classical conditioning. Of particular benefit to the study of synaptic plasticity, the sensory-motor synapse can be reconstituted in culture, where well-characterized stimuli elicit forms of plasticity that have direct correlates in the behavior of the animal2,3
. Specifically, application of serotonin produces a synaptic strengthening that, depending on the application protocol, lasts for minutes (short-term facilitation), hours (intermediate-term facilitation) or days (long-term facilitation). In contrast, application of the peptide transmitter FMRFamide produces a synaptic weakening or depression that, depending on the application protocol, can last from minutes to days (long-term depression). The large size of the neurons allows for repeated sharp electrode recording of synaptic strength over periods of days together with microinjection of expression vectors, siRNAs and other compounds to target specific signaling cascades and molecules and thereby identify the molecular and cell biological steps that underlie the changes in synaptic efficacy.
An additional advantage of the Aplysia
culture system comes from the fact that the neurons demonstrate synapse-specificity in culture4,5
. Thus, sensory neurons do not form synapses with themselves (autapses) or with other sensory neurons, nor do they form synapses with non-target identified motor neurons in culture. The varicosities, sites of synaptic contact between sensory and motor neurons, are large enough (2-7 microns in diameter) to allow synapse formation (as well as changes in synaptic morphology) with target motor neurons to be studied at the light microscopic level.
In this video, we demonstrate each step of preparing sensory-motor neuron cultures, including anesthetizing adult and juvenile Aplysia
, dissecting their ganglia, protease digestion of the ganglia, removal of the connective tissue by microdissection, identification of both sensory and motor neurons and removal of each cell type by microdissection, plating of the motor neuron, addition of the sensory neuron and manipulation of the sensory neurite to form contact with the cultured motor neuron.
Neuroscience, Issue 28, Aplysia Californica, Synaptic Plasticity, Sensory Motor Neuronal Cultures, Invertebrates, Short-Term Facilitation, Monosynaptic, Intermediate-Term Facilitation, Ganglia, Long-Term Depression, Autapses, Sirnas, Glutamatergic Synapses, Somata
Operant Procedures for Assessing Behavioral Flexibility in Rats
Institutions: St. Mary's College of Maryland, University of British Columbia.
Executive functions consist of multiple high-level cognitive processes that drive rule generation and behavioral selection. An emergent property of these processes is the ability to adjust behavior in response to changes in one’s environment (i.e.
, behavioral flexibility). These processes are essential to normal human behavior, and may be disrupted in diverse neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding of the neurobiology of executive functions has been greatly advanced by the availability of animal tasks for assessing discrete components of behavioral flexibility, particularly strategy shifting and reversal learning. While several types of tasks have been developed, most are non-automated, labor intensive, and allow testing of only one animal at a time. The recent development of automated, operant-based tasks for assessing behavioral flexibility streamlines testing, standardizes stimulus presentation and data recording, and dramatically improves throughput. Here, we describe automated strategy shifting and reversal tasks, using operant chambers controlled by custom written software programs. Using these tasks, we have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex governs strategy shifting but not reversal learning in the rat, similar to the dissociation observed in humans. Moreover, animals with a neonatal hippocampal lesion, a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia, are selectively impaired on the strategy shifting task but not the reversal task. The strategy shifting task also allows the identification of separate types of performance errors, each of which is attributable to distinct neural substrates. The availability of these automated tasks, and the evidence supporting the dissociable contributions of separate prefrontal areas, makes them particularly well-suited assays for the investigation of basic neurobiological processes as well as drug discovery and screening in disease models.
Behavior, Issue 96, executive function, behavioral flexibility, prefrontal cortex, strategy shifting, reversal learning, behavioral neuroscience, schizophrenia, operant
The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g.,
allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms.
Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces.
Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
Morris Water Maze Test: Optimization for Mouse Strain and Testing Environment
Institutions: West Virginia University, West Virginia University, N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care, University of Minnesota, N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care, University of Minnesota, GRECC, VA Medical Center, West Virginia University.
The Morris water maze (MWM) is a commonly used task to assess hippocampal-dependent spatial learning and memory in transgenic mouse models of disease, including neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, the background strain of the mouse model used can have a substantial effect on the observed behavioral phenotype, with some strains exhibiting superior learning ability relative to others. To ensure differences between transgene negative and transgene positive mice can be detected, identification of a training procedure sensitive to the background strain is essential. Failure to tailor the MWM protocol to the background strain of the mouse model may lead to under- or over- training, thereby masking group differences in probe trials. Here, a MWM protocol tailored for use with the F1 FVB/N x 129S6 background is described. This is a frequently used background strain to study the age-dependent effects of mutant P301L tau (rTg(TauP301L)4510 mice) on the memory deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Also described is a strategy to re-optimize, as dictated by the particular testing environment utilized.
Behavior, Issue 100, Spatial learning, spatial reference memory, Morris water maze, Alzheimer’s disease, behavior, tau, hippocampal-dependent learning, rTg4510, Tg2576, strain background, transgenic mouse models
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
The Attentional Set Shifting Task: A Measure of Cognitive Flexibility in Mice
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, South Texas Veteran's Health Care System.
Cognitive impairment, particularly involving dysfunction of circuitry within the prefrontal cortex (PFC), represents a core feature of many neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. Deficits in cognitive function also represent the most difficult symptom domain to successfully treat, as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants have only modest effects. Functional neuroimaging studies and postmortem analysis of human brain tissue implicate the PFC as being a primary region of dysregulation in patients with these disorders. However, preclinical behavioral assays used to assess these deficits in mouse models which can be readily manipulated genetically and could provide the basis for studies of new treatment avenues have been underutilized. Here we describe the adaptation of a behavioral assay, the attentional set shifting task (AST), to be performed in mice to assess prefrontal cortex mediated cognitive deficits. The neural circuits underlying behavior during the AST are highly conserved across humans, nonhuman primates and rodents, providing excellent face, construct and predictive validity.
Behavior, Issue 96, cognitive flexibility, prefrontal cortex, behavior, attention, mouse, neuropsychiatric symptom, cognitive dysfunction
The Neuromuscular Junction: Measuring Synapse Size, Fragmentation and Changes in Synaptic Protein Density Using Confocal Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: University of Sydney, Macquarie University, University of Sydney.
The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is the large, cholinergic relay synapse through which mammalian motor neurons control voluntary muscle contraction. Structural changes at the NMJ can result in neurotransmission failure, resulting in weakness, atrophy and even death of the muscle fiber. Many studies have investigated how genetic modifications or disease can alter the structure of the mouse NMJ. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to directly compare findings from these studies because they often employed different parameters and analytical methods. Three protocols are described here. The first uses maximum intensity projection confocal images to measure the area of acetylcholine receptor (AChR)-rich postsynaptic membrane domains at the endplate and the area of synaptic vesicle staining in the overlying presynaptic nerve terminal. The second protocol compares the relative intensities of immunostaining for synaptic proteins in the postsynaptic membrane. The third protocol uses Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) to detect changes in the packing of postsynaptic AChRs at the endplate. The protocols have been developed and refined over a series of studies. Factors that influence the quality and consistency of results are discussed and normative data are provided for NMJs in healthy young adult mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, neuromuscular, motor endplate, motor control, sarcopenia, myasthenia gravis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, morphometry, confocal, immunofluorescence
Study Motor Skill Learning by Single-pellet Reaching Tasks in Mice
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
Reaching for and retrieving objects require precise and coordinated motor movements in the forelimb. When mice are repeatedly trained to grasp and retrieve food rewards positioned at a specific location, their motor performance (defined as accuracy and speed) improves progressively over time, and plateaus after persistent training. Once such reaching skill is mastered, its further maintenance does not require constant practice. Here we introduce a single-pellet reaching task to study the acquisition and maintenance of skilled forelimb movements in mice. In this video, we first describe the behaviors of mice that are commonly encountered in this learning and memory paradigm, and then discuss how to categorize these behaviors and quantify the observed results. Combined with mouse genetics, this paradigm can be utilized as a behavioral platform to explore the anatomical underpinnings, physiological properties, and molecular mechanisms of learning and memory.
Behavior, Issue 85, mouse, neuroscience, motor skill learning, single-pellet reaching, forelimb movements, Learning and Memory