Neuroscience


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Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 106 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

Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 557 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 1373 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 501 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 819 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 641 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 602 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


0 Q&A 782 Views Jan 20, 2024

The central nervous system (CNS) relies on the complex interaction of neuroglial cells to carry out vital physiological functions. To comprehensively understand the structural and functional interplay between these neuroglial cells, it is essential to establish an appropriate in vitro system that can be utilized for thorough investigation. Traditional protocols for establishing primary neuronal and mixed glial cultures from prenatal mice or neural stem cells require sacrificing pregnant mice and have the drawback of yielding only specific types of cells. Our current protocol overcomes these drawbacks by utilizing the brain from day-0 pups to isolate CNS resident neuroglial cells including astrocytes, microglia, oligodendrocytes [oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) and differentiated oligodendrocytes], and meningeal fibroblasts, as well as hippocampal neurons, avoiding sacrificing pregnant mice, which makes this procedure efficient and cost effective. Furthermore, through this protocol, we aim to provide step-by-step instructions for isolating and establishing different primary neuroglial cells and their characterization using cell-specific markers. This study presents an opportunity to isolate, culture, and establish all major CNS resident cells individually. These cells can be utilized in various cell-based and biochemical assays to comprehensively investigate the cell-specific roles and behaviors of brain resident cells in a reductionist approach.


Key features

• Efficient isolation of major neuroglial cells like meningeal fibroblasts, neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia from a single day-0 neonatal mouse pup’s brain.

• Circumvents the sacrifice of pregnant female mice.

• Acts as a bridging experimental method between secondary cell lines and in vivo systems.

• Isolated cells can be used for performing various cell-based and biochemical assays.


Graphical overview



Steps for isolation of meningeal fibroblast and neuroglial cells from day 0 pups of mice (Created using BioRender.com)


0 Q&A 290 Views Jan 20, 2024

Capillary density in skeletal muscles is key to estimate exercise capacity in healthy individuals, athletes, and those with muscle-related pathologies. Here, we present a step-by-step, high-throughput semi-automated method for quantifying capillary density from whole human skeletal muscle cross-sections, in areas of the muscle occupied by myofibers. We provide a detailed protocol for immunofluorescence staining, image acquisition, processing, and quantification. Image processing is performed in ImageJ, and data analysis is conducted in R. The provided protocol allows high-throughput quantification of capillary density.


Key features

• This protocol builds upon the method and results described in Abbassi-Daloii et al. (2023b).

• It includes step-by-step details on image acquisition and image processing of the entire muscle section.

• It enables high-throughput and semi-automated image quantification of capillary density.

• It provides a robust analysis for determining capillary density over the entire muscle cross section.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 608 Views Jan 5, 2024

Neurons are complex cells with two distinct compartments: the somatodendritic and the axonal domains. Because of their polarized morphology, it is challenging to study the differential cellular and molecular mechanisms that occur in axons and impact the soma and dendrites using conventional in vitro culture systems. Compartmentalized cultures offer a solution by physically and chemically separating the axonal from the somatodendritic domain of neurons. The microfluidic chamber model presented in this work is valuable for studying these mechanisms in primary cortical cultures derived from rat and mouse. In addition, this chamber model is compatible with various microscopy methods, such as phase contrast, and fluorescence imaging of living and fixed cells.


Key features

• Preparation and attachment of PDMS microfluidic chambers to glass coverslips.

• Primary culture of cortical neurons and plating cortical neurons in microfluidic chamber.

• Confirmation of compartmentalization using the retrograde transport of the fluorescently labeled form of cholera toxin subunit B (f-Ctb).

• Immunofluorescence and multilabeling of compartmentalized cortical neurons.

• Retrograde transport of fluorescently labeled BDNF.

0 Q&A 578 Views Jan 5, 2024

In vitro differentiation of human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) model systems has furthered our understanding of human development. Techniques used to elucidate gene function during early development have encountered technical challenges, especially when targeting embryonic lethal genes. The introduction of CRISPRoff by Nuñez and collaborators provides an opportunity to heritably silence genes during long-term differentiation. We modified CRISPRoff and sgRNA Sleeping Beauty transposon vectors that depend on tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation to silence the expression of embryonic lethal genes at different stages of differentiation in a stable manner. We provide instructions on how to generate sgRNA transposon vectors that can be used in combination with our CRISPRoff transposon vector and a stable hPSC line. We validate the use of this tool by silencing MCL-1, an anti-apoptotic protein, which results in pre-implantation embryonic lethality in mice; this protein is necessary for oligodendrocyte and hematopoietic stem cell development and is required for the in vitro survival of hPSCs. In this protocol, we use an adapted version of the differentiation protocol published by Douvaras and Fossati (2015) to generate oligodendrocyte lineage cells from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). After introduction of the CRISPRoff and sgRNAs transposon vectors in hESCs, we silence MCL-1 in committed oligodendrocyte neural precursor cells and describe methods to measure its expression. With the methods described here, users can design sgRNA transposon vectors targeting MCL-1 or other essential genes of interest to study human oligodendrocyte development or other differentiation protocols that use hPSC model systems.


Key features

• Generation of an inducible CRISPRoff Sleeping Beauty transposon system.

• Experiments performed in vitro for generation of inducible CRISPRoff pluripotent stem cell line amenable to oligodendrocyte differentiation.

• Strategy to downregulate an essential gene at different stages of oligodendrocyte development.


Graphical overview



Workflow for generating inducible CRISPRoff stem cell line and assessing knockdown phenotype in stem cell–derived committed oligodendrocyte neural precursor cells




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