Neuroscience


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Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 80 Views Jun 20, 2024

Sleep is an essential behavior that is still poorly understood. Sleep abnormalities accompany a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders, and sleep can serve as a modifiable behavior in the treatment of these disorders. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) has proven to be a powerful model organism to study sleep and the interplay between sleep and these disorders due to the high conservation of the neuro-modulatory mechanisms that control sleep and wake states between zebrafish and humans. The zebrafish is a diurnal vertebrate with a relatively simple nervous system compared to mammalian models, exhibiting conservation of sleep ontogeny across different life stages. Zebrafish larvae are an established high-throughput model to assess sleep phenotypes and the biological underpinnings of sleep disturbances. To date, sleep measurement in juvenile and adult zebrafish has not been performed in a standardized and reproducible manner because of the relatively low-throughput nature in relation to their larval counterparts. This has left a gap in understanding sleep across later stages of life that are relevant to many psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Several research groups have used homemade systems to address this gap. Here, we report employing commercially available equipment to track activity and sleep/wake patterns in juvenile and adult zebrafish. The equipment allows researchers to perform automated behavior assays in an isolated environment with light/dark and temperature control for multiple days. We first explain the experimental procedure to track the sleep and activity of adult zebrafish and then validate the protocol by measuring the effects of melatonin and DMSO administration.

0 Q&A 54 Views Jun 20, 2024

Microglia, the brain's primary resident immune cell, exists in various phenotypic states depending on intrinsic and extrinsic signaling. Distinguishing between these phenotypes can offer valuable biological insights into neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative processes. Recent advances in single-cell transcriptomic profiling have allowed for increased granularity and better separation of distinct microglial states. While techniques such as immunofluorescence and single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) are available to differentiate microglial phenotypes and functions, these methods present notable limitations, including challenging quantification methods, high cost, and advanced analytical techniques. This protocol addresses these limitations by presenting an optimized cell preparation procedure that prevents ex vivo activation and a flow cytometry panel to distinguish four distinct microglial states from murine brain tissue. Following cell preparation, fluorescent antibodies were applied to label 1) homeostatic, 2) disease-associated (DAM), 3) interferon response (IRM), and 4) lipid-droplet accumulating (LDAM) microglia, based on gene markers identified in previous scRNA-Seq studies. Stained cells were analyzed by flow cytometry to assess phenotypic distribution as a function of age and sex. A key advantage of this procedure is its adaptability, allowing the panel provided to be enhanced using additional markers with an appropriate cell analyzer (i.e., Cytek Aurora 5 laser spectral flow cytometer) and interrogating different brain regions or disease models. Additionally, this protocol does not require microglial cell sorting, resulting in a relatively quick and straightforward experiment. Ultimately, this protocol can compare the distribution of microglial phenotypic states between various experimental groups, such as disease state or age, with a lower cost and higher throughput than scRNA-seq.

Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 114 Views Jun 5, 2024

Many studies on mosquito biology rely on laboratory-reared colonies, emphasizing the need for standardized protocols to investigate critical aspects such as disease biology, mosquito behavior, and vector control methods. While much knowledge is derived from anthropophilic species from genera like Anopheles, Aedes, and Culex, there is a growing interest in studying mosquitoes that feed on non-human hosts. This interest stems from the desire to gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of diverse host range use and host specificity. However, there is currently a limited number of comprehensive protocols for studying such species. Considering this gap, we present a protocol for rearing Uranotaenia lowii, a mosquito species specialized in feeding on anuran amphibians by eavesdropping on host-emitted sound cues. Additionally, we provide instructions for successfully shipping live specimens to promote research on this species and similar ones. This protocol helps fill the current gap in comprehensive guidelines for rearing and maintaining colonies of anuran host–biting mosquitoes. It serves as a valuable resource for researchers seeking to establish colonies of mosquito species from the Uranotaeniini tribe. Ultimately, this protocol may facilitate research on the evolutionary ecology of Culicidae, as this family has recently been proposed to have originated from a frog-feeding ancestor.

0 Q&A 423 Views May 20, 2024

Understanding dendritic excitability is essential for a complete and precise characterization of neurons’ input-output relationships. Theoretical and experimental work demonstrates that the electrotonic and nonlinear properties of dendrites can alter the amplitude (e.g., through amplification) and latency of synaptic inputs as viewed in the axosomatic region where spike timing is determined. The gold-standard technique to study dendritic excitability is using dual-patch recordings with a high-resistance electrode used to patch a piece of distal dendrite in addition to a somatic patch electrode. However, this approach is often impractical when distal dendrites are too fine to patch. Therefore, we developed a technique that utilizes the expression of Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) to study dendritic excitability in acute brain slices through the combination of a somatic patch electrode and optogenetic activation. The protocol describes how to prepare acute slices from mice that express ChR2 in specific cell types, and how to use two modes of light stimulation: proximal (which activates the soma and proximal dendrites in a ~100 µm diameter surrounding the soma) with the use of a high-magnification objective and full-field stimulation through a low-magnification objective (which activates the entire somato-dendritic field of the neuron). We use this technique in conjunction with various stimulation protocols to estimate model-based spectral components of dendritic filtering and the impact of dendrites on phase response curves, peri-stimulus time histograms, and entrainment of pacemaking neurons. This technique provides a novel use of optogenetics to study intrinsic dendritic excitability through the use of standard patch-clamp slice physiology.

0 Q&A 677 Views Apr 20, 2024

In vivo brain imaging, using a combination of genetically encoded Ca2+ indicators and gradient refractive index (GRIN) lens, is a transformative technology that has become an increasingly potent research tool over the last decade. It allows direct visualisation of the dynamic cellular activity of deep brain neurons and glia in conscious animals and avoids the effect of anaesthesia on the network. This technique provides a step change in brain imaging where fibre photometry combines the whole ensemble of cellular activity, and multiphoton microscopy is limited to imaging superficial brain structures either under anaesthesia or in head-restrained conditions. We have refined the intravital imaging technique to image deep brain nuclei in the ventral medulla oblongata, one of the most difficult brain structures to image due to the movement of brainstem structures outside the cranial cavity during free behaviour (head and neck movement), whose targeting requires GRIN lens insertion through the cerebellum—a key structure for balance and movement. Our protocol refines the implantation method of GRIN lenses, giving the best possible approach to image deep extracranial brainstem structures in awake rodents with improved cell rejection/acceptance criteria during analysis. We have recently reported this method for imaging the activity of retrotrapezoid nucleus and raphe neurons to outline their chemosensitive characteristics. This revised method paves the way to image challenging brainstem structures to investigate their role in complex behaviours such as breathing, circulation, sleep, digestion, and swallowing, and could be extended to image and study the role of cerebellum in balance, movement, motor learning, and beyond.


Key features

• We developed a protocol that allows imaging from brainstem neurons and glia in freely behaving rodents.

• Our refined method of GRIN lenses implantation and cell sorting approach gives the highest number of cells with the least postoperative complications.

• The revised deep brainstem imaging method paves way to understand complex behaviours such as cardiorespiratory regulation, sleep, swallowing, and digestion.

• Our protocol can be implemented to image cerebellar structures to understand their role in key functions such as balance, movement, motor learning, and more.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 285 Views Apr 5, 2024

Measuring signal propagation through nerves is a classical electrophysiological technique established decades ago to evaluate sensory and motor functions in the nervous system. The whole-nerve preparation provides a valuable model to investigate nerve function ex vivo; however, it requires specific knowledge to ensure successful and stable measurements. Although the methodology for sciatic nerve recordings has long existed, a method for reliable and long-lasting recordings from myelinated and non-myelinated (nociceptive) fibers still needs to be adapted for pharmacological testing. This protocol takes benefits from epineurium sheath removal for pharmacological tests and provides a detailed description of how to make accurate nerve preparations, from the dissection and handling of nerves to epineurium cleaning, fabrication of adaptable suction electrodes for appropriate fiber stimulation and recordings, setting of electrophysiological protocols for compound action potential (CAP) recordings to distinguish between myelinated and non-myelinated (nociceptive) fibers, and finally to the analysis of the datasets of CAP components. We also demonstrate the feasibility of CAP recordings from individual branches in epineurium-free nerve preparations and provide clues to help retain nerve viability and maintain stable recordings over time. Although a sciatic nerve preparation was used here, the methodology can be applied to other nerve-type preparations.


Key features

• Detailed and simplified protocol for peripheral nerve preparation for recording sensory inputs ex vivo.

• Recordings from myelinated and non-myelinated (nociceptive) fibers can be performed hours after nerve preparation.

• The protocol involves the epineurium removal to facilitate drug permeability into nerve tissue for pharmacological tests.

• The protocol allows physiological and pathological studies (pain/chronic pain conditions).


Graphical overview



Preparation and recordings from the sciatic nerve, including myelinated and non-myelinated (nociceptive) fibers

0 Q&A 627 Views Mar 5, 2024

Recent advancements in tissue-clearing techniques and volumetric imaging have greatly facilitated visualization and quantification of biomolecules, organelles, and cells in intact organs or even entire organisms. Generally, there are two types of clearing methods: hydrophobic and hydrophilic (i.e., clearing with organic or aqueous solvents, respectively). The popular iDISCO approach and its modifications are hydrophobic methods that involve dehydration, delipidation, decolorization (optional), decalcification (optional), and refractive-index (RI) matching steps. Cleared samples are often stored for a relatively long period of time and imaged repeatedly. However, cleared tissues can become opaque over time, which prevents accurate reimaging. We reasoned that the resurgent haziness is likely due to rehydration, residual lipids, and uneven RI deep inside those tissue samples. For rescue, we have developed a simple procedure based on iDISCO. Beginning with a methanol dehydration, samples are delipidated using dichloromethane, followed by RI matching with dibenzyl ether (DBE). This simple method effectively re-clears mouse brains that have turned opaque during months of storage, allowing the user to effectively image immunolabeled samples over longer periods of time.


Key features

• This simple protocol rescues previously cleared tissue that has turned opaque.

• The method does not cause detectable loss of immunofluorescence from previously stained samples.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 1469 Views Feb 20, 2024

Astrocytes are increasingly recognized for their important role in neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In ALS, astrocytes shift from their primary function of providing neuronal homeostatic support towards a reactive and toxic role, which overall contributes to neuronal toxicity and cell death. Currently, our knowledge on these processes is incomplete, and time-efficient and reproducible model systems in a human context are therefore required to understand and therapeutically modulate the toxic astrocytic response for future treatment options. Here, we present an efficient and straightforward protocol to generate human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived astrocytes implementing a differentiation scheme based on small molecules. Through an initial 25 days, hiPSCs are differentiated into astrocytes, which are matured for 4+ weeks. The hiPSC-derived astrocytes can be cryopreserved at every passage during differentiation and maturation. This provides convenient pauses in the protocol as well as cell banking opportunities, thereby limiting the need to continuously start from hiPSCs. The protocol has already proven valuable in ALS research but can be adapted to any desired research field where astrocytes are of interest.


Key features

• This protocol requires preexisting experience in hiPSC culturing for a successful outcome.

• The protocol relies on a small molecule differentiation scheme and an easy-to-follow methodology, which can be paused at several time points.

• The protocol generates >50 × 106 astrocytes per differentiation, which can be cryopreserved at every passage, ensuring a large-scale experimental output.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 572 Views Feb 20, 2024

Dopaminergic (DAergic) neurodegeneration in the substantia nigra pars compacta of the human brain is the pathological feature associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Drosophila also exhibits mobility defects and diminished levels of brain dopamine on exposure to neurotoxicants mimicking PD. Our laboratory demonstrated in a Drosophila model of sporadic PD that there is no decrease in DAergic neuronal number; instead, there is a significant reduction in tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) fluorescence intensity (FI). Here, we present a sensitive assay based on the quantification of FI of the secondary antibody (ab). As the FI is directly proportional to the amount of TH synthesis, its reduction under PD conditions denotes the decrease in the TH synthesis, suggesting DAergic neuronal dysfunction. Therefore, FI quantification is a refined and sensitive method to understand the early stages of DAergic neurodegeneration. FI quantification is performed using the ZEN 2012 SP2 single-user software; a license must be acquired to utilize the imaging system to interactively control image acquisition, image processing, and analysis. This method will be of good use to biologists, as it can also be used with little modification to characterize the extent of degeneration and changes in the level of degeneration in response to drugs in different cell types. Unlike the expensive and cumbersome confocal microscopy, the present method will be an affordable option for fund-constrained neurobiology laboratories.


Key features

• Allows characterizing the incipient DAergic and other catecholaminergic neurodegeneration, even in the absence of loss of neuronal cell body.

• Great alternative for the fund-constrained neurobiology laboratories in developing countries to utilize this method in different cell types and their response to drugs/nutraceuticals.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 900 Views Feb 20, 2024

Structural and functional changes in vascular networks play a vital role during development, causing or contributing to the pathophysiology of injury and disease. Current methods to trace and image the vasculature in laboratory settings have proven inconsistent, inaccurate, and labor intensive, lacking the inherent three-dimensional structure of vasculature. Here, we provide a robust and highly reproducible method to image and quantify changes in vascular networks down to the capillary level. The method combines vasculature tracing, tissue clearing, and three-dimensional imaging techniques with vessel segmentation using AI-based convolutional reconstruction to rapidly process large, unsectioned tissue specimens throughout the body with high fidelity. The practicality and scalability of our protocol offer application across various fields of biomedical sciences. Obviating the need for sectioning of samples, this method will expedite qualitative and quantitative analyses of vascular networks. Preparation of the fluorescent gel perfusate takes < 30 min per study. Transcardiac perfusion and vasculature tracing takes approximately 20 min, while dissection of tissue samples ranges from 5 to 15 min depending on the tissue of interest. The tissue clearing protocol takes approximately 24–48 h per whole-tissue sample. Lastly, three-dimensional imaging and analysis can be completed in one day. The entire procedure can be carried out by a competent graduate student or experienced technician.


Key features

• This robust and highly reproducible method allows users to image and quantify changes in vascular networks down to the capillary level.

• Three-dimensional imaging techniques with vessel segmentation enable rapid processing of large, unsectioned tissue specimens throughout the body.

• It takes approximately 2–3 days for sample preparation, three-dimensional imaging, and analysis.

• The user-friendly pipeline can be completed by experienced and non-experienced users.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 788 Views Feb 5, 2024

Measuring autonomic parameters like heart rate in behaving mice is not only a standard procedure in cardiovascular research but is applied in many other interdisciplinary research fields. With an electrocardiogram (ECG), the heart rate can be measured by deriving the electrical potential between subcutaneously implanted wires across the chest. This is an inexpensive and easy-to-implement technique and particularly suited for repeated recordings of up to eight weeks. This protocol describes a step-by-step guide for manufacturing the needed equipment, performing the surgical procedure of electrode implantation, and processing of acquired data, yielding accurate and reliable detection of heartbeats and calculation of heart rate (HR). We provide MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI)–based tools to extract and start processing the acquired data without a lot of coding knowledge. Finally, based on an example of a data set acquired in the context of defensive reactions, we discuss the potential and pitfalls in analyzing HR data.


Key features

• Next to surgical steps, the protocol provides a detailed description of manufacturing custom-made ECG connectors and a shielded, light-weight patch cable.

• Suitable for recordings in which signal quality is challenged by ambient noise or noise from other recording devices.

• Described for 2-channel differential recording but easily expandable to record from more channels.

• Includes a summary of potential analysis methods and a discussion on the interpretation of HR dynamics in the case study of fear states.


0 Q&A 668 Views Jan 20, 2024

The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a major obstacle to the diagnostics and treatment of many central nervous system (CNS) diseases. A prime example of this challenge is seen in glioblastoma (GBM), the most aggressive and malignant primary brain tumor. The BBB in brain tumors, or the blood–brain–tumor barrier (BBTB), prevents the efficient delivery of most therapeutics to brain tumors. Current strategies to overcome the BBB for therapeutic delivery, such as using hyperosmotic agents (mannitol), have impeded progress in clinical translation limited by the lack of spatial resolution, high incidences of complications, and potential for toxicity. Focused ultrasound combined with intravenously administered microbubbles enables the transient disruption of the BBB and has progressed to early-phase clinical trials. However, the poor survival with currently approved treatments for GBM highlights the compelling need to develop and validate treatment strategies as well as the screening for more potent anticancer drugs. In this protocol, we introduce an optical method to open the BBTB (OptoBBTB) for therapeutic delivery via ultrashort pulse laser stimulation of vascular targeting plasmonic gold nanoparticles (AuNPs). Specifically, the protocol includes the synthesis and characterization of vascular-targeting AuNPs and a detailed procedure of optoBBTB. We also report the downstream characterization of the drug delivery and tumor treatment efficacy after BBB modulation. Compared with other barrier modulation methods, our optical approach has advantages in high spatial resolution and minimally invasive access to tissues. Overall, optoBBTB allows for the delivery of a variety of therapeutics into the brain and will accelerate drug delivery and screening for CNS disease treatment.


Key features

• Pulsed laser excitation of vascular-targeting gold nanoparticles non-invasively and reversibly modulates the blood–brain barrier permeability.

• OptoBBTB enhances drug delivery in clinically relevant glioblastoma models.

• OptoBBTB has the potential for drug screening and evaluation for superficial brain tumor treatment.


Graphical overview





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