Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Two-Photon in vivo Imaging of Dendritic Spines in the Mouse Cortex Using a Thinned-skull Preparation
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the mammalian cortex, neurons form extremely complicated networks and exchange information at synapses. Changes in synaptic strength, as well as addition/removal of synapses, occur in an experience-dependent manner, providing the structural foundation of neuronal plasticity. As postsynaptic components of the most excitatory synapses in the cortex, dendritic spines are considered to be a good proxy of synapses. Taking advantages of mouse genetics and fluorescent labeling techniques, individual neurons and their synaptic structures can be labeled in the intact brain. Here we introduce a transcranial imaging protocol using two-photon laser scanning microscopy to follow fluorescently labeled postsynaptic dendritic spines over time in vivo
. This protocol utilizes a thinned-skull preparation, which keeps the skull intact and avoids inflammatory effects caused by exposure of the meninges and the cortex. Therefore, images can be acquired immediately after surgery is performed. The experimental procedure can be performed repetitively over various time intervals ranging from hours to years. The application of this preparation can also be expanded to investigate different cortical regions and layers, as well as other cell types, under physiological and pathological conditions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, dendritic spine, mouse cortex, in vivo, two-photon microscopy, thinned-skull, imaging
Voltage-sensitive Dye Recording from Axons, Dendrites and Dendritic Spines of Individual Neurons in Brain Slices
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Understanding the biophysical properties and functional organization of single neurons and how they process information is fundamental for understanding how the brain works. The primary function of any nerve cell is to process electrical signals, usually from multiple sources. Electrical properties of neuronal processes are extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and, in the general case, impossible to predict in the absence of detailed measurements. To obtain such a measurement one would, ideally, like to be able to monitor, at multiple sites, subthreshold events as they travel from the sites of origin on neuronal processes and summate at particular locations to influence action potential initiation. This goal has not been achieved in any neuron due to technical limitations of measurements that employ electrodes. To overcome this drawback, it is highly desirable to complement the patch-electrode approach with imaging techniques that permit extensive parallel recordings from all parts of a neuron. Here, we describe such a technique - optical recording of membrane potential transients with organic voltage-sensitive dyes (Vm
-imaging) - characterized by sub-millisecond and sub-micrometer resolution. Our method is based on pioneering work on voltage-sensitive molecular probes 2
. Many aspects of the initial technology have been continuously improved over several decades 3, 5, 11
. Additionally, previous work documented two essential characteristics of Vm-
imaging. Firstly, fluorescence signals are linearly proportional to membrane potential over the entire physiological range (-100 mV to +100 mV; 10, 14, 16
). Secondly, loading neurons with the voltage-sensitive dye used here (JPW 3028) does not have detectable pharmacological effects. The recorded broadening of the spike during dye loading is completely reversible 4, 7
. Additionally, experimental evidence shows that it is possible to obtain a significant number (up to hundreds) of recordings prior to any detectable phototoxic effects 4, 6, 12, 13
. At present, we take advantage of the superb brightness and stability of a laser light source at near-optimal wavelength to maximize the sensitivity of the Vm
-imaging technique. The current sensitivity permits multiple site optical recordings of Vm
transients from all parts of a neuron, including axons and axon collaterals, terminal dendritic branches, and individual dendritic spines. The acquired information on signal interactions can be analyzed quantitatively as well as directly visualized in the form of a movie.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, voltage-sensitive dyes, brain, imaging, dendritic spines, axons, dendrites, neurons
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
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
Visualizing the Effects of a Positive Early Experience, Tactile Stimulation, on Dendritic Morphology and Synaptic Connectivity with Golgi-Cox Staining
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
To generate longer-term changes in behavior, experiences must be producing stable changes in neuronal morphology and synaptic connectivity. Tactile stimulation is a positive early experience that mimics maternal licking and grooming in the rat. Exposing rat pups to this positive experience can be completed easily and cost-effectively by using highly accessible materials such as a household duster. Using a cross-litter design, pups are either stroked or left undisturbed, for 15 min, three times per day throughout the perinatal period. To measure the neuroplastic changes related to this positive early experience, Golgi-Cox staining of brain tissue is utilized. Owing to the fact that Golgi-Cox impregnation stains a discrete number of neurons rather than all of the cells, staining of the rodent brain with Golgi-Cox solution permits the visualization of entire neuronal elements, including the cell body, dendrites, axons, and dendritic spines. The staining procedure is carried out over several days and requires that the researcher pay close attention to detail. However, once staining is completed, the entire brain has been impregnated and can be preserved indefinitely for ongoing analysis. Therefore, Golgi-Cox staining is a valuable resource for studying experience-dependent plasticity.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Brain, Prefrontal Cortex, Neurons, Massage, Staining and Labeling, mPFC, spine density, methodology, enrichment
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Multi-photon Intracellular Sodium Imaging Combined with UV-mediated Focal Uncaging of Glutamate in CA1 Pyramidal Neurons
Institutions: Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.
Multi-photon fluorescence microscopy has enabled the analysis of morphological and physiological parameters of brain cells in the intact tissue with high spatial and temporal resolution. Combined with electrophysiology, it is widely used to study activity-related calcium signals in small subcellular compartments such as dendrites and dendritic spines. In addition to calcium transients, synaptic activity also induces postsynaptic sodium signals, the properties of which are only marginally understood. Here, we describe a method for combined whole-cell patch-clamp and multi-photon sodium imaging in cellular micro domains of central neurons. Furthermore, we introduce a modified procedure for ultra-violet (UV)-light-induced uncaging of glutamate, which allows reliable and focal activation of glutamate receptors in the tissue. To this end, whole-cell recordings were performed on Cornu Ammonis
subdivision 1 (CA1) pyramidal neurons in acute tissue slices of the mouse hippocampus. Neurons were filled with the sodium-sensitive fluorescent dye SBFI through the patch-pipette, and multi-photon excitation of SBFI enabled the visualization of dendrites and adjacent spines. To establish UV-induced focal uncaging, several parameters including light intensity, volume affected by the UV uncaging beam, positioning of the beam as well as concentration of the caged compound were tested and optimized. Our results show that local perfusion with caged glutamate (MNI-Glutamate) and its focal UV-uncaging result in inward currents and sodium transients in dendrites and spines. Time course and amplitude of both inward currents and sodium signals correlate with the duration of the uncaging pulse. Furthermore, our results show that intracellular sodium signals are blocked in the presence of blockers for ionotropic glutamate receptors, demonstrating that they are mediated by sodium influx though this pathway. In summary, our method provides a reliable tool for the investigation of intracellular sodium signals induced by focal receptor activation in intact brain tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Neurosciences, two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp, UV-flash photolysis, mouse, hippocampus, caged compounds, glutamate, brain slice, dendrite, sodium signals
Testing Sensory and Multisensory Function in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, University of Toronto, Vanderbilt University.
In addition to impairments in social communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, deficits in sensory processing are now recognized as a core symptom in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Our ability to perceive and interact with the external world is rooted in sensory processing. For example, listening to a conversation entails processing the auditory cues coming from the speaker (speech content, prosody, syntax) as well as the associated visual information (facial expressions, gestures). Collectively, the “integration” of these multisensory (i.e.
, combined audiovisual) pieces of information results in better comprehension. Such multisensory integration has been shown to be strongly dependent upon the temporal relationship of the paired stimuli. Thus, stimuli that occur in close temporal proximity are highly likely to result in behavioral and perceptual benefits – gains believed to be reflective of the perceptual system's judgment of the likelihood that these two stimuli came from the same source. Changes in this temporal integration are expected to strongly alter perceptual processes, and are likely to diminish the ability to accurately perceive and interact with our world. Here, a battery of tasks designed to characterize various aspects of sensory and multisensory temporal processing in children with ASD is described. In addition to its utility in autism, this battery has great potential for characterizing changes in sensory function in other clinical populations, as well as being used to examine changes in these processes across the lifespan.
Behavior, Issue 98, Temporal processing, multisensory integration, psychophysics, computer based assessments, sensory deficits, autism spectrum disorder
Viral-mediated Labeling and Transplantation of Medial Ganglionic Eminence (MGE) Cells for In Vivo Studies
Institutions: University of California San Francisco, University of California San Francisco.
GABAergic cortical interneurons, derived from the embryonic medial and caudal ganglionic eminences (MGE and CGE), are functionally and morphologically diverse. Inroads have been made in understanding the roles of distinct cortical interneuron subgroups, however, there are still many mechanisms to be worked out that may contribute to the development and maturation of different types of GABAergic cells. Moreover, altered GABAergic signaling may contribute to phenotypes of autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy. Specific Cre-driver lines have begun to parcel out the functions of unique interneuron subgroups. Despite the advances in mouse models, it is often difficult to efficiently study GABAergic cortical interneuron progenitors with molecular approaches in vivo
. One important technique used to study the cell autonomous programming of these cells is transplantation of MGE cells into host cortices. These transplanted cells migrate extensively, differentiate, and functionally integrate. In addition, MGE cells can be efficiently transduced with lentivirus immediately prior to transplantation, allowing for a multitude of molecular approaches. Here we detail a protocol to efficiently transduce MGE cells before transplantation for in vivo
analysis, using available Cre-driver lines and Cre-dependent expression vectors. This approach is advantageous because it combines precise genetic manipulation with the ability of these cells to disperse after transplantation, permitting greater cell-type specific resolution in vivo
Developmental Biology, Issue 98, MGE, interneuron, transplantation, lentivirus, cell labeling, somatostatin, Cre
Regioselective Biolistic Targeting in Organotypic Brain Slices Using a Modified Gene Gun
Institutions: University of Toronto, MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.
Transfection of DNA has been invaluable for biological sciences and with recent advances to organotypic brain slice preparations, the effect of various heterologous genes could thus be investigated easily while maintaining many aspects of in vivo
biology. There has been increasing interest to transfect terminally differentiated neurons for which conventional transfection methods have been fraught with difficulties such as low yields and significant losses in viability. Biolistic transfection can circumvent many of these difficulties yet only recently has this technique been modified so that it is amenable for use in mammalian tissues.
New modifications to the accelerator chamber have enhanced the gene gun's firing accuracy and increased its depths of penetration while also allowing the use of lower gas pressure (50 psi) without loss of transfection efficiency as well as permitting a focused regioselective spread of the particles to within 3 mm. In addition, this technique is straight forward and faster to perform than tedious microinjections. Both transient and stable expression are possible with nanoparticle bombardment where episomal expression can be detected within 24 hr and the cell survival was shown to be better than, or at least equal to, conventional methods. This technique has however one crucial advantage: it permits the transfection to be localized within a single restrained radius thus enabling the user to anatomically isolate the heterologous gene's effects. Here we present an in-depth protocol to prepare viable adult organotypic slices and submit them to regioselective transfection using an improved gene gun.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Biolistics, gene gun, organotypic brain slices, Diolistic, gene delivery, staining
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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
Post-embedding Immunogold Labeling of Synaptic Proteins in Hippocampal Slice Cultures
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin , Medical College of Wisconsin .
Immunoelectron microscopy is a powerful tool to study biological molecules at the subcellular level. Antibodies coupled to electron-dense markers such as colloidal gold can reveal the localization and distribution of specific antigens in various tissues1
. The two most widely used techniques are pre-embedding and post-embedding techniques. In pre-embedding immunogold-electron microscopy (EM) techniques, the tissue must be permeabilized to allow antibody penetration before it is embedded. These techniques are ideal for preserving structures but poor penetration of the antibody (often only the first few micrometers) is a considerable drawback2
. The post-embedding labeling methods can avoid this problem because labeling takes place on sections of fixed tissues where antigens are more easily accessible. Over the years, a number of modifications have improved the post-embedding methods to enhance immunoreactivity and to preserve ultrastructure3-5
Tissue fixation is a crucial part of EM studies. Fixatives chemically crosslink the macromolecules to lock the tissue structures in place. The choice of fixative affects not only structural preservation but also antigenicity and contrast. Osmium tetroxide (OsO4
), formaldehyde, and glutaraldehyde have been the standard fixatives for decades, including for central nervous system (CNS) tissues that are especially prone to structural damage during chemical and physical processing. Unfortunately, OsO4
is highly reactive and has been shown to mask antigens6
, resulting in poor and insufficient labeling. Alternative approaches to avoid chemical fixation include freezing the tissues. But these techniques are difficult to perform and require expensive instrumentation. To address some of these problems and to improve CNS tissue labeling, Phend et al
. replaced OsO4
with uranyl acetate (UA) and tannic acid (TA), and successfully introduced additional modifications to improve the sensitivity of antigen detection and structural preservation in brain and spinal cord tissues7
. We have adopted this osmium-free post-embedding method to rat brain tissue and optimized the immunogold labeling technique to detect and study synaptic proteins.
We present here a method to determine the ultrastructural localization of synaptic proteins in rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. We use organotypic hippocampal cultured slices. These slices maintain the trisynaptic circuitry of the hippocampus, and thus are especially useful for studying synaptic plasticity, a mechanism widely thought to underlie learning and memory. Organotypic hippocampal slices from postnatal day 5 and 6 mouse/rat pups can be prepared as described previously8
, and are especially useful to acutely knockdown or overexpress exogenous proteins. We have previously used this protocol to characterize neurogranin (Ng), a neuron-specific protein with a critical role in regulating synaptic function8,9
. We have also used it to characterize the ultrastructural localization of calmodulin (CaM) and Ca2+
/CaM-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII)10
. As illustrated in the results, this protocol allows good ultrastructural preservation of dendritic spines and efficient labeling of Ng to help characterize its distribution in the spine8
. Furthermore, the procedure described here can have wide applicability in studying many other proteins involved in neuronal functions.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Immunology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Proteins, Immunohistochemistry, Immunological Synapses, Synapses, Hippocampus, Microscopy, Electron, Neuronal Plasticity, plasticity, Nervous System, Organotypic cultures, hippocampus, electron microscopy, post-embedding, immunogold labeling, fixation, cell culture, imaging
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
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
An Optogenetic Approach for Assessing Formation of Neuronal Connections in a Co-culture System
Institutions: Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Nanyang Technological University.
Here we describe a protocol to generate a co-culture consisting of 2 different neuronal populations. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are reprogrammed from human fibroblasts using episomal vectors. Colonies of iPSCs can be observed 30 days after initiation of fibroblast reprogramming. Pluripotent colonies are manually picked and grown in neural induction medium to permit differentiation into neural progenitor cells (NPCs). iPSCs rapidly convert into neuroepithelial cells within 1 week and retain the capability to self-renew when maintained at a high culture density. Primary mouse NPCs are differentiated into astrocytes by exposure to a serum-containing medium for 7 days and form a monolayer upon which embryonic day 18 (E18) rat cortical neurons (transfected with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)) are added. Human NPCs tagged with the fluorescent protein, tandem dimer Tomato (tdTomato), are then seeded onto the astrocyte/cortical neuron culture the following day and allowed to differentiate for 28 to 35 days. We demonstrate that this system forms synaptic connections between iPSC-derived neurons and cortical neurons, evident from an increase in the frequency of synaptic currents upon photostimulation of the cortical neurons. This co-culture system provides a novel platform for evaluating the ability of iPSC-derived neurons to create synaptic connections with other neuronal populations.
Developmental Biology, Issue 96, Neuroscience, Channelrhodopsin-2, Co-culture, Neurons, Astrocytes, induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, Neural progenitors, Differentiation, Cell culture, Cortex
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
An Engulfment Assay: A Protocol to Assess Interactions Between CNS Phagocytes and Neurons
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g.
, beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g.,
. The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system7
. While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g.,
astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g.
, peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Central Nervous System (CNS), Engulfment, Phagocytosis, Microglia, Synapse, Anterograde Tracing, Presynaptic Input, Retinogeniculate System
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Fast Micro-iontophoresis of Glutamate and GABA: A Useful Tool to Investigate Synaptic Integration
Institutions: University of Bonn, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE).
One of the fundamental interests in neuroscience is to understand the integration of excitatory and inhibitory inputs along the very complex structure of the dendritic tree, which eventually leads to neuronal output of action potentials at the axon. The influence of diverse spatial and temporal parameters of specific synaptic input on neuronal output is currently under investigation, e.g.
the distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic inputs, the location-dependent interaction of spatially segregated inputs, the influence of GABAergig inhibition on excitatory integration, linear and non-linear integration modes, and many more.
With fast micro-iontophoresis of glutamate and GABA it is possible to precisely investigate the spatial and temporal integration of glutamatergic excitation and GABAergic inhibition. Critical technical requirements are either a triggered fluorescent lamp, light-emitting diode (LED), or a two-photon scanning microscope to visualize dendritic branches without introducing significant photo-damage of the tissue. Furthermore, it is very important to have a micro-iontophoresis amplifier that allows for fast capacitance compensation of high resistance pipettes. Another crucial point is that no transmitter is involuntarily released by the pipette during the experiment.
Once established, this technique will give reliable and reproducible signals with a high neurotransmitter and location specificity. Compared to glutamate and GABA uncaging, fast iontophoresis allows using both transmitters at the same time but at very distant locations without limitation to the field of view. There are also advantages compared to focal electrical stimulation of axons: with micro-iontophoresis the location of the input site is definitely known and it is sure that only the neurotransmitter of interest is released. However it has to be considered that with micro-iontophoresis only the postsynapse is activated and presynaptic aspects of neurotransmitter release are not resolved. In this article we demonstrate how to set up micro-iontophoresis in brain slice experiments.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biochemistry, biology (general), animal biology, Nervous System, Life Sciences (General), Neurosciences, brain slices, dendrites, inhibition, excitation, glutamate, GABA, micro-iontophoresis, iontophoresis, neurons, patch clamp, whole cell recordings
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
Studying the Integration of Adult-born Neurons
Institutions: State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Neurogenesis occurs in adult mammalian brains in the sub-ventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricle and in the sub-granular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampal dentate gyrus throughout life. Previous reports have shown that adult hippocampal neurogenesis is associated with diverse brain disorders, including epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety (1
). Deciphering the process of normal and aberrant adult-born neuron integration may shed light on the etiology of these diseases and inform the development of new therapies.
SGZ adult neurogenesis mirrors embryonic and post-natal neuronal development, including stages of fate specification, migration, synaptic integration, and maturation. However, full integration occurs over a prolonged, 6-week period. Initial synaptic input to adult-born SGZ dentate granule cells (DGCs) is GABAergic, followed by glutamatergic input at 14 days (2
). The specific factors which regulate circuit formation of adult-born neurons in the dentate gyrus are currently unknown.
Our laboratory uses a replication-deficient retroviral vector based on the Moloney murine leukemia virus to deliver fluorescent proteins and hypothesized regulatory genes to these proliferating cells. This viral technique provides high specificity and resolution for analysis of cell birth date, lineage, morphology, and synaptogenesis.
A typical experiment often employs two or three viruses containing unique label, transgene, and promoter elements for single-cell analysis of a desired developmental process in vivo
. The following protocol describes a method for analyzing functional newborn neuron integration using a single green (GFP) or red (dTomato) fluorescent protein retrovirus and patch-clamp electrophysiology.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, dentate gyrus, neurogenesis, newborn dentate granule cells, functional integration
Dissection and Imaging of Active Zones in the Drosophila Neuromuscular Junction
Institutions: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
larvae neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an excellent model for the study of synaptic structure and function. Drosophila
is well known for the ease of powerful genetic manipulations and the larval nervous system has proven particularly useful in studying not only normal function but also perturbations that accompany some neurological disease (Lloyd and Taylor, 2010). Many key synaptic molecules found in Drosophila
are also found in mammals and like most CNS excitatory synapses in mammals, the Drosophila
NMJ is glutamatergic and demonstrates activity-dependent remodeling (Kohet al.
, 2000). Additionally, Drosophila
neurons can be individually identified because their innervation patterns are stereotyped and repetitive making it possible to study identified synaptic terminals, such as those between motor neurons and the body-wall muscle fibers that they innervate (Keshishian and Kim, 2004). The existence of evolutionarily conserved synapse components along with the ease of genetic and physical manipulation make the Drosophila
model ideal for investigating the mechanisms underlying synaptic function (Budnik, 1996).
The active zones at synaptic terminals are of particular interest because these are the sites of neurotransmitter release. NC82 is a monoclonal antibody that recognizes the Drosophila
protein Bruchpilot (Brp), a CAST1/ERC family member that is an important component of the active zone (Waghet al.
, 2006). Brp was shown to directly shape the active zone T-bar and is responsible for effectively clustering Ca2+
channels beneath the T-bar density (Fouquetet al.
, 2009). Mutants of Brp have reduced Ca2+
channel density, depressed evoked vesicle release, and altered short-term plasticity (Kittelet al.
, 2006). Alterations to active zones have been observed in Drosophila
disease models. For example, immunofluorescence using the NC82 antibody showed that the active zone density was decreased in models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Pitt-Hopkins syndrome (Ratnaparkhiet al.
, 2008; Zweieret al.
, 2009). Thus, evaluation of active zones, or other synaptic proteins, in Drosophila
larvae models of disease may provide a valuable initial clue to the presence of a synaptic defect.
Preparing whole-mount dissected Drosophila
larvae for immunofluorescence analysis of the NMJ requires some skill, but can be accomplished by most scientists with a little practice. Presented is a method that provides for multiple larvae to be dissected and immunostained in the same dissection dish, limiting environmental differences between each genotype and providing sufficient animals for confidence in reproducibility and statistical analysis.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Neuromuscular junction (NMJ), Drosophila, active zone, dissection, larva, Bruchpilot (Brp), NC82
High-throughput Flow Cytometry Cell-based Assay to Detect Antibodies to N-Methyl-D-aspartate Receptor or Dopamine-2 Receptor in Human Serum
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research.
Over the recent years, antibodies against surface and conformational proteins involved in neurotransmission have been detected in autoimmune CNS diseases in children and adults. These antibodies have been used to guide diagnosis and treatment. Cell-based assays have improved the detection of antibodies in patient serum. They are based on the surface expression of brain antigens on eukaryotic cells, which are then incubated with diluted patient sera followed by fluorochrome-conjugated secondary antibodies. After washing, secondary antibody binding is then analyzed by flow cytometry. Our group has developed a high-throughput flow cytometry live cell-based assay to reliably detect antibodies against specific neurotransmitter receptors. This flow cytometry method is straight forward, quantitative, efficient, and the use of a high-throughput sampler system allows for large patient cohorts to be easily assayed in a short space of time. Additionally, this cell-based assay can be easily adapted to detect antibodies to many different antigenic targets, both from the central nervous system and periphery. Discovering additional novel antibody biomarkers will enable prompt and accurate diagnosis and improve treatment of immune-mediated disorders.
Medicine, Issue 81, Flow cytometry, cell-based assay, autoantibody, high-throughput sampler, autoimmune CNS disease