Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Use of Arabidopsis eceriferum Mutants to Explore Plant Cuticle Biosynthesis
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC, University of British Columbia - UBC.
The plant cuticle is a waxy outer covering on plants that has a primary role in water conservation, but is also an important barrier against the entry of pathogenic microorganisms. The cuticle is made up of a tough crosslinked polymer called "cutin" and a protective wax layer that seals the plant surface. The waxy layer of the cuticle is obvious on many plants, appearing as a shiny film on the ivy leaf or as a dusty outer covering on the surface of a grape or a cabbage leaf thanks to light scattering crystals present in the wax. Because the cuticle is an essential adaptation of plants to a terrestrial environment, understanding the genes involved in plant cuticle formation has applications in both agriculture and forestry. Today, we'll show the analysis of plant cuticle mutants identified by forward and reverse genetics approaches.
Plant Biology, Issue 16, Annual Review, Cuticle, Arabidopsis, Eceriferum Mutants, Cryso-SEM, Gas Chromatography
Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2
, 200 mmHg of CH4
, and 200 mmHg of NH3
into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A 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
Ablation of a Single Cell From Eight-cell Embryos of the Amphipod Crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis
Institutions: Harvard University.
The amphipod Parhyale hawaiensis
is a small crustacean found in intertidal marine habitats worldwide. Over the past decade, Parhyale
has emerged as a promising model organism for laboratory studies of development, providing a useful outgroup comparison to the well studied arthropod model organism Drosophila melanogaster
. In contrast to the syncytial cleavages of Drosophila
, the early cleavages of Parhyale
are holoblastic. Fate mapping using tracer dyes injected into early blastomeres have shown that all three germ layers and the germ line are established by the eight-cell stage. At this stage, three blastomeres are fated to give rise to the ectoderm, three are fated to give rise to the mesoderm, and the remaining two blastomeres are the precursors of the endoderm and germ line respectively. However, blastomere ablation experiments have shown that Parhyale
embryos also possess significant regulatory capabilities, such that the fates of blastomeres ablated at the eight-cell stage can be taken over by the descendants of some of the remaining blastomeres. Blastomere ablation has previously been described by one of two methods: injection and subsequent activation of phototoxic dyes or manual ablation. However, photoablation kills blastomeres but does not remove the dead cell body from the embryo. Complete physical removal of specific blastomeres may therefore be a preferred method of ablation for some applications. Here we present a protocol for manual removal of single blastomeres from the eight-cell stage of Parhyale
embryos, illustrating the instruments and manual procedures necessary for complete removal of the cell body while keeping the remaining blastomeres alive and intact. This protocol can be applied to any Parhyale
cell at the eight-cell stage, or to blastomeres of other early cleavage stages. In addition, in principle this protocol could be applicable to early cleavage stage embryos of other holoblastically cleaving marine invertebrates.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, Amphipod, experimental embryology, micromere, germ line, ablation, developmental potential, vasa
Assessment of Vascular Function in Patients With Chronic Kidney Disease
Institutions: University of Colorado, Denver, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) have significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to the general population, and this is only partially explained by traditional CVD risk factors. Vascular dysfunction is an important non-traditional risk factor, characterized by vascular endothelial dysfunction (most commonly assessed as impaired endothelium-dependent dilation [EDD]) and stiffening of the large elastic arteries. While various techniques exist to assess EDD and large elastic artery stiffness, the most commonly used are brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMDBA
) and aortic pulse-wave velocity (aPWV), respectively. Both of these noninvasive measures of vascular dysfunction are independent predictors of future cardiovascular events in patients with and without kidney disease. Patients with CKD demonstrate both impaired FMDBA
, and increased aPWV. While the exact mechanisms by which vascular dysfunction develops in CKD are incompletely understood, increased oxidative stress and a subsequent reduction in nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability are important contributors. Cellular changes in oxidative stress can be assessed by collecting vascular endothelial cells from the antecubital vein and measuring protein expression of markers of oxidative stress using immunofluorescence. We provide here a discussion of these methods to measure FMDBA
, aPWV, and vascular endothelial cell protein expression.
Medicine, Issue 88, chronic kidney disease, endothelial cells, flow-mediated dilation, immunofluorescence, oxidative stress, pulse-wave velocity
Rapid and Low-cost Prototyping of Medical Devices Using 3D Printed Molds for Liquid Injection Molding
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of Southern California.
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, liquid injection molding, reaction injection molding, molds, 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, rapid prototyping, medical devices, low cost, low volume, rapid turnaround time.
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
Rapid Genotyping of Animals Followed by Establishing Primary Cultures of Brain Neurons
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EZ BioResearch LLC.
High-resolution analysis of the morphology and function of mammalian neurons often requires the genotyping of individual animals followed by the analysis of primary cultures of neurons. We describe a set of procedures for: labeling newborn mice to be genotyped, rapid genotyping, and establishing low-density cultures of brain neurons from these mice. Individual mice are labeled by tattooing, which allows for long-term identification lasting into adulthood. Genotyping by the described protocol is fast and efficient, and allows for automated extraction of nucleic acid with good reliability. This is useful under circumstances where sufficient time for conventional genotyping is not available, e.g.,
in mice that suffer from neonatal lethality. Primary neuronal cultures are generated at low density, which enables imaging experiments at high spatial resolution. This culture method requires the preparation of glial feeder layers prior to neuronal plating. The protocol is applied in its entirety to a mouse model of the movement disorder DYT1 dystonia (ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice), and neuronal cultures are prepared from the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and striatum of these mice. This protocol can be applied to mice with other genetic mutations, as well as to animals of other species. Furthermore, individual components of the protocol can be used for isolated sub-projects. Thus this protocol will have wide applications, not only in neuroscience but also in other fields of biological and medical sciences.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, AP2, genotyping, glial feeder layer, mouse tail, neuronal culture, nucleic-acid extraction, PCR, tattoo, torsinA
A Whole Cell Bioreporter Approach to Assess Transport and Bioavailability of Organic Contaminants in Water Unsaturated Systems
Institutions: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.
Bioavailability of contaminants is a prerequisite for their effective biodegradation in soil. The average bulk concentration of a contaminant, however, is not an appropriate measure for its availability; bioavailability rather depends on the dynamic interplay of potential mass transfer (flux) of a compound to a microbial cell and the capacity of the latter to degrade the compound. In water-unsaturated parts of the soil, mycelia have been shown to overcome bioavailability limitations by actively transporting and mobilizing organic compounds over the range of centimeters. Whereas the extent of mycelia-based transport can be quantified easily by chemical means, verification of the contaminant-bioavailability to bacterial cells requires a biological method. Addressing this constraint, we chose the PAH fluorene (FLU) as a model compound and developed a water unsaturated model microcosm linking a spatially separated FLU point source and the FLU degrading bioreporter bacterium Burkholderia sartisoli
RP037-mChe by a mycelial network of Pythium ultimum
. Since the bioreporter expresses eGFP in response of the PAH flux to the cell, bacterial FLU exposure and degradation could be monitored directly in the microcosms via confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). CLSM and image analyses revealed a significant increase of the eGFP expression in the presence of P. ultimum
compared to controls without mycelia or FLU thus indicating FLU bioavailability to bacteria after mycelia-mediated transport. CLSM results were supported by chemical analyses in identical microcosms. The developed microcosm proved suitable to investigate contaminant bioavailability and to concomitantly visualize the involved bacteria-mycelial interactions.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 94, PAH, bioavailability, mycelia, translocation, volatility, bioreporter, CLSM, biodegradation, fluorene
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
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
Patch Clamp Recording of Ion Channels Expressed in Xenopus Oocytes
Institutions: Stanford University , Stanford University School of Medicine.
Since its development by Sakmann and Neher 1, 2
, the patch clamp has become established as an extremely useful technique for electrophysiological measurement of single or multiple ion channels in cells. This technique can be applied to ion channels in both their native environment and expressed in heterologous cells, such as oocytes harvested from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Here, we describe the well-established technique of patch clamp recording from Xenopus oocytes. This technique is used to measure the properties of expressed ion channels either in populations (macropatch) or individually (single-channel recording). We focus on techniques to maximize the quality of oocyte preparation and seal generation. With all factors optimized, this technique gives a probability of successful seal generation over 90 percent. The process may be optimized differently by every researcher based on the factors he or she finds most important, and we present the approach that have lead to the greatest success in our hands.
Cellular Biology, Issue 20, Electrophysiology, Patch Clamp, Voltage Clamp, Oocytes, Biophysics, Gigaseal, Ion Channels
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
Dual Somatic Recordings from Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Neurons Identified by Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) in Hypothalamic Slices
Institutions: University of Texas San Antonio - UTSA.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) is a small neuropeptide that regulates pituitary release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These gonadotropins are essential for the regulation of reproductive function. The GnRH-containing neurons are distributed diffusely throughout the hypothalamus and project to the median eminence where they release GnRH from their axon terminals into the hypophysiotropic portal system (1). In the portal capillaries, GnRH travels to the anterior pituitary gland to stimulate release of gonadotropins into systemic circulation. GnRH release is not continuous but rather occurs in episodic pulses. It is well established that the intermittent manner of GnRH release is essential for reproduction (2, 3).
Coordination of activity of multiple GnRH neurons probably underlies GnRH pulses. Total peptide content in GnRH neurons is approximately 1.0 pg/cell (4), of which 30% likely comprises the releasable pool. Levels of GnRH during a pulse (5, 6), suggest multiple GnRH neurons are probably involved in neurosecretion. Likewise, single unit activity extracted from hypothalamic multi-unit recordings during LH release indicates changes in activity of multiple neurons (7). The electrodes with recorded activity during LH pulses are associated with either GnRH somata or fibers (8). Therefore, at least some of this activity arises from GnRH neurons.
The mechanisms that result in synchronized firing in hypothalamic GnRH neurons are unknown. Elucidating the mechanisms that coordinate firing in GnRH neurons is a complex problem. First, the GnRH neurons are relatively few in number. In rodents, there are 800-2500 GnRH neurons. It is not clear that all GnRH neurons are involved in episodic GnRH release. Moreover, GnRH neurons are diffusely distributed (1). This has complicated our understanding of coordination of firing and has made many technical approaches intractable. We have optimized loose cell-attached recordings in current-clamp mode for the direct detection of action potentials and developed a recording approach that allows for simultaneous recordings from pairs of GnRH neurons.
Jove Neuroscience, Issue 36, electrophysiology, simultaneous recording, cell-attached recording, current clamp, brain slice
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
GABA-activated Single-channel and Tonic Currents in Rat Brain Slices
Institutions: Uppsala University, Sweden.
channels are present in all neurons and are located both at synapses and outside of synapses where they generate phasic and tonic currents, respectively 4,5,6,7
channel is a pentameric GABA-gated chloride channel. The channel subunits are grouped into 8 families (α1-6, β1-3, γ1-3, δ, ε, θ, π and ρ). Two alphas, two betas and one 3rd
subunit form the functional channel 8
. By combining studies of sub-type specific GABA-activated single-channel molecules with studies including all populations of GABAA
channels in the neuron it becomes possible to understand the basic mechanism of neuronal inhibition and how it is modulated by pharmacological agents.
We use the patch-clamp technique 9,10
to study the functional properties of the GABAA
channels in alive neurons in hippocampal brain slices and record the single-channel and whole-cell currents. We further examine how the channels are affected by different GABA concentrations, other drugs and intra and extracellular factors. For detailed theoretical and practical description of the patch-clamp method please see The Single-Channel Recordings edited by B Sakman and E Neher 10
Neuroscience, Issue 53, brain, patch-clamp, ion channels, tonic current, slices, whole-cell current, single-channel current, GABAA, GABA
Imaging Leukocyte Adhesion to the Vascular Endothelium at High Intraluminal Pressure
Institutions: Monash University.
Worldwide, hypertension is reported to be in approximately a quarter of the population and is the leading biomedical risk factor for mortality worldwide. In the vasculature hypertension is associated with endothelial dysfunction and increased inflammation leading to atherosclerosis and various disease states such as chronic kidney disease2
and heart failure4
. An initial step in vascular inflammation leading to atherogenesis is the adhesion cascade which involves the rolling, tethering, adherence and subsequent transmigration of leukocytes through the endothelium. Recruitment and accumulation of leukocytes to the endothelium is mediated by an upregulation of adhesion molecules such as vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), intracellular cell adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and E-selectin as well as increases in cytokine and chemokine release and an upregulation of reactive oxygen species5
. In vitro
methods such as static adhesion assays help to determine mechanisms involved in cell-to-cell adhesion as well as the analysis of cell adhesion molecules. Methods employed in previous in vitro
studies have demonstrated that acute increases in pressure on the endothelium can lead to monocyte adhesion, an upregulation of adhesion molecules and inflammatory markers6
however, similar to many in vitro
assays, these findings have not been performed in real time under physiological flow conditions, nor with whole blood. Therefore, in vivo
assays are increasingly utilised in animal models to demonstrate vascular inflammation and plaque development. Intravital microscopy is now widely used to assess leukocyte adhesion, rolling, migration and transmigration7-9
. When combining the effects of pressure on leukocyte to endothelial adhesion the in vivo
studies are less extensive. One such study examines the real time effects of flow and shear on arterial growth and remodelling but inflammatory markers were only assessed via immunohistochemistry10
. Here we present a model for recording leukocyte adhesion in real time in intact pressurised blood vessels using whole blood perfusion. The methodology is a modification of an ex vivo
vessel chamber perfusion model9
which enables real-time analysis of leukocyte -endothelial adhesive interactions in intact vessels. Our modification enables the manipulation of the intraluminal pressure up to 200 mmHg allowing for study not only under physiological flow conditions but also pressure conditions. While pressure myography systems have been previously demonstrated to observe vessel wall and lumen diameter11
as well as vessel contraction this is the first time demonstrating leukocyte-endothelial interactions in real time. Here we demonstrate the technique using carotid arteries harvested from rats and cannulated to a custom-made flow chamber coupled to a fluorescent microscope. The vessel chamber is equipped with a large bottom coverglass allowing a large diameter objective lens with short working distance to image the vessel. Furthermore, selected agonist and/or antagonists can be utilized to further investigate the mechanisms controlling cell adhesion. Advantages of this method over intravital microscopy include no involvement of invasive surgery and therefore a higher throughput can be obtained. This method also enables the use of localised inhibitor treatment to the desired vessel whereas intravital only enables systemic inhibitor treatment.
Immunology, Issue 54, Leukocyte adhesion, intraluminal pressure, endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, hypertension
Culturing and Electrophysiology of Cells on NRCC Patch-clamp Chips
Institutions: National Research Council of Canada, National Research Council of Canada, University of Calgary .
Due to its exquisite sensitivity and the ability to monitor and control individual cells at the level of ion channels, patch-clamping is the gold standard of electrophysiology applied to disease models and pharmaceutical screens alike 1
. The method traditionally involves gently contacting a cell with a glass pipette filled by a physiological solution in order to isolate a patch of the membrane under its apex 2
. An electrode inserted in the pipette captures ion-channel activity within the membrane patch or, when ruptured, for the whole cell. In the last decade, patch-clamp chips have been proposed as an alternative 3, 4
: a suspended film separates the physiological medium from the culture medium, and an aperture microfabricated in the film replaces the apex of the pipette. Patch-clamp chips have been integrated in automated systems and commercialized for high-throughput screening 5
. To increase throughput, they include the fluidic delivery of cells from suspension, their positioning on the aperture by suction, and automated routines to detect cell-to-probe seals and enter into whole cell mode. We have reported on the fabrication of a silicon patch-clamp chip with optimized impedance and orifice shape that permits the high-quality recording of action potentials in cultured snail neurons 6
; recently, we have also reported progress towards interrogating mammalian neurons 7
. Our patch-clamp chips are fabricated at the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre 8
, a commercial foundry, and are available in large series. We are eager to engage in collaborations with electrophysiologists to validate the use of the NRCC technology in different models. The chips are used according to the general scheme represented in Figure 1: the silicon chip is at the bottom of a Plexiglas culture vial and the back of the aperture is connected to a subterranean channel fitted with tubes at either end of the package. Cells are cultured in the vial and the cell on top of the probe is monitored by a measuring electrode inserted in the channel.The two outside fluidic ports facilitate solution exchange with minimal disturbance to the cell; this is an advantage compared to glass pipettes for intracellular perfusion.
Principle of measurement using the NRCC patch-clamp chip
We detail here the protocols to sterilize and prime the chips, load them with medium, plate them with cells, and finally use them for electrophysiological recordings.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, disease models, pharmaceutical screens, electrophysiological recordings, patch-clamp, silicon planar patch-clamp chip, cultured neurons
Doppler Optical Coherence Tomography of Retinal Circulation
Institutions: Oregon Health and Science University , University of Southern California.
Noncontact retinal blood flow measurements are performed with a Fourier domain optical coherence tomography (OCT) system using a circumpapillary double circular scan (CDCS) that scans around the optic nerve head at 3.40 mm and 3.75 mm diameters. The double concentric circles are performed 6 times consecutively over 2 sec. The CDCS scan is saved with Doppler shift information from which flow can be calculated. The standard clinical protocol calls for 3 CDCS scans made with the OCT beam passing through the superonasal edge of the pupil and 3 CDCS scan through the inferonal pupil. This double-angle protocol ensures that acceptable Doppler angle is obtained on each retinal branch vessel in at least 1 scan. The CDCS scan data, a 3-dimensional volumetric OCT scan of the optic disc scan, and a color photograph of the optic disc are used together to obtain retinal blood flow measurement on an eye. We have developed a blood flow measurement software called "Doppler optical coherence tomography of retinal circulation" (DOCTORC). This semi-automated software is used to measure total retinal blood flow, vessel cross section area, and average blood velocity. The flow of each vessel is calculated from the Doppler shift in the vessel cross-sectional area and the Doppler angle between the vessel and the OCT beam. Total retinal blood flow measurement is summed from the veins around the optic disc. The results obtained at our Doppler OCT reading center showed good reproducibility between graders and methods (<10%). Total retinal blood flow could be useful in the management of glaucoma, other retinal diseases, and retinal diseases. In glaucoma patients, OCT retinal blood flow measurement was highly correlated with visual field loss (R2
>0.57 with visual field pattern deviation). Doppler OCT is a new method to perform rapid, noncontact, and repeatable measurement of total retinal blood flow using widely available Fourier-domain OCT instrumentation. This new technology may improve the practicality of making these measurements in clinical studies and routine clinical practice.
Medicine, Issue 67, Ophthalmology, Physics, Doppler optical coherence tomography, total retinal blood flow, dual circular scan pattern, image analysis, semi-automated grading software, optic disc
Micropipette Aspiration of Substrate-attached Cells to Estimate Cell Stiffness
Institutions: University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania .
Growing number of studies show that biomechanical properties of individual cells play major roles in multiple cellular functions, including cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and cell-cell interactions. The two key parameters of cellular biomechanics are cellular deformability or stiffness and the ability of the cells to contract and generate force. Here we describe a quick and simple method to estimate cell stiffness by measuring the degree of membrane deformation in response to negative pressure applied by a glass micropipette to the cell surface, a technique that is called Micropipette Aspiration or Microaspiration.
Microaspiration is performed by pulling a glass capillary to create a micropipette with a very small tip (2-50 μm diameter depending on the size of a cell or a tissue sample), which is then connected to a pneumatic pressure transducer and brought to a close vicinity of a cell under a microscope. When the tip of the pipette touches a cell, a step of negative pressure is applied to the pipette by the pneumatic pressure transducer generating well-defined pressure on the cell membrane. In response to pressure, the membrane is aspirated into the pipette and progressive membrane deformation or "membrane projection" into the pipette is measured as a function of time. The basic principle of this experimental approach is that the degree of membrane deformation in response to a defined mechanical force is a function of membrane stiffness. The stiffer the membrane is, the slower the rate of membrane deformation and the shorter the steady-state aspiration length.The technique can be performed on isolated cells, both in suspension and substrate-attached, large organelles, and liposomes.
Analysis is performed by comparing maximal membrane deformations achieved under a given pressure for different cell populations or experimental conditions. A "stiffness coefficient" is estimated by plotting the aspirated length of membrane deformation as a function of the applied pressure. Furthermore, the data can be further analyzed to estimate the Young's modulus of the cells (E), the most common parameter to characterize stiffness of materials. It is important to note that plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells can be viewed as a bi-component system where membrane lipid bilayer is underlied by the sub-membrane cytoskeleton and that it is the cytoskeleton that constitutes the mechanical scaffold of the membrane and dominates the deformability of the cellular envelope. This approach, therefore, allows probing the biomechanical properties of the sub-membrane cytoskeleton.
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Cell stiffness, biomechanics, microaspiration, cell membrane, cytoskeleton
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Making Record-efficiency SnS Solar Cells by Thermal Evaporation and Atomic Layer Deposition
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University.
Tin sulfide (SnS) is a candidate absorber material for Earth-abundant, non-toxic solar cells. SnS offers easy phase control and rapid growth by congruent thermal evaporation, and it absorbs visible light strongly. However, for a long time the record power conversion efficiency of SnS solar cells remained below 2%. Recently we demonstrated new certified record efficiencies of 4.36% using SnS deposited by atomic layer deposition, and 3.88% using thermal evaporation. Here the fabrication procedure for these record solar cells is described, and the statistical distribution of the fabrication process is reported. The standard deviation of efficiency measured on a single substrate is typically over 0.5%. All steps including substrate selection and cleaning, Mo sputtering for the rear contact (cathode), SnS deposition, annealing, surface passivation, Zn(O,S) buffer layer selection and deposition, transparent conductor (anode) deposition, and metallization are described. On each substrate we fabricate 11 individual devices, each with active area 0.25 cm2
. Further, a system for high throughput measurements of current-voltage curves under simulated solar light, and external quantum efficiency measurement with variable light bias is described. With this system we are able to measure full data sets on all 11 devices in an automated manner and in minimal time. These results illustrate the value of studying large sample sets, rather than focusing narrowly on the highest performing devices. Large data sets help us to distinguish and remedy individual loss mechanisms affecting our devices.
Engineering, Issue 99, Solar cells, thin films, thermal evaporation, atomic layer deposition, annealing, tin sulfide