Sensory circuits use common strategies such as convergence and divergence, typically at different synapses, to pool or distribute inputs. Inputs from different presynaptic cell types converge onto a common postsynaptic cell, acting together to shape neuronal output (Klausberger and Somogyi, 2008). Also, individual presynaptic cells contact several postsynaptic cell types, generating divergence of signals. Attaining such complex wiring patterns relies on the orchestration of many events across development, including axonal and dendritic growth and synapse formation and elimination (reviewed by Waites et al., 2005; Sanes and Yamagata, 2009). Recent work has focused on how distinct presynaptic cell types form stereotypic connections with an individual postsynaptic cell (Williams et al., 2011; Morgan et al., 2011), but how a single presynaptic cell type diverges to form distinct wiring patterns with multiple postsynaptic cell types during development remains unexplored. Here we take advantage of the compactness of the visual system's first synapse to observe development of such a circuit in mouse retina. By imaging three types of postsynaptic bipolar cells and their common photoreceptor targets across development, we found that distinct bipolar cell types engage in disparate dendritic growth behaviors, exhibit targeted or exploratory approaches to contact photoreceptors, and adhere differently to the synaptotropic model of establishing synaptic territories. Furthermore each type establishes their final connectivity patterns with the same afferents on separate time-scales. We propose that such differences in strategy and timeline could facilitate the division of common inputs among multiple postsynaptic cell types to create parallel circuits with diverse function.
To integrate information from different presynaptic cell types, dendrites receive distinct patterns of synapses from converging axons. How different afferents in vivo establish specific connectivity patterns with the same dendrite is poorly understood. Here, we examine the synaptic development of three glutamatergic bipolar cell types converging onto a common postsynaptic retinal ganglion cell. We find that after axons and dendrites target appropriate synaptic layers, patterns of connections among these neurons diverge through selective changes in the conversion of axo-dendritic appositions to synapses. This process is differentially regulated by neurotransmission, which is required for the shift from single to multisynaptic appositions of one bipolar cell type but not for maintenance and elimination, respectively, of connections from the other two types. Thus, synaptic specificity among converging excitatory inputs in the retina emerges via differential synaptic maturation of axo-dendritic appositions and is shaped by neurotransmission in a cell type-dependent manner.
The avian nucleus laminaris (NL) is involved in computation of interaural time differences (ITDs) that encode the azimuthal position of a sound source. Neurons in NL are bipolar, with dorsal and ventral dendritic arbors receiving input from separate ears. NL neurons act as coincidence detectors that respond maximally when input from each ear arrives at the two dendritic arbors simultaneously. Computational and physiological studies demonstrated that the sensitivity of NL neurons to coincident inputs is modulated by an inhibitory feedback circuit via the superior olivary nucleus (SON). To understand the mechanism of this modulation, the topography of the projection from SON to NL was mapped, and the morphology of the axon terminals of SON neurons in NL was examined in chickens (Gallus gallus). In vivo injection of AlexaFluor 568 dextran amine into SON demonstrated a coarse topographic projection from SON to NL. Retrogradely labeled neurons in NL were located within the zone of anterogradely labeled terminals, suggesting a reciprocal projection from SON to NL. In vivo extracellular physiological recording further demonstrated that this topography is consistent with tonotopic maps in SON and NL. In addition, three-dimensional reconstruction of single SON axon branches within NL revealed that individual SON neurons innervate a large area of NL and terminate on both dorsal and ventral dendritic arbors of NL neurons. The organization of the projection from SON to NL supports its proposed functions of controlling the overall activity level of NL and enhancing the specificity of frequency mapping and ITD detection.
auditory brainstem; axonal projection; γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA); interaural time difference (ITD); tonotopic organization
Astroglia secrete factors that promote synapse formation and maintenance. In culture, glial contact has also been shown to facilitate synaptogenesis. Here, we examined whether glial contact is important for establishing circuits in vivo by simultaneously monitoring differentiation of glial cells and local synaptogenesis over time. Photoreceptor circuits of the vertebrate retina are particularly suitable for this study because of the relatively simple, laminar organization of their connectivity with their target neurons, horizontal cells (HCs) and bipolar cells. Also, individual photoreceptor terminals are ensheathed within the outer plexiform layer (OPL) by the processes of one type of glia, Müller glia (MG). We conducted in vivo time-lapse multiphoton imaging of the rapidly-developing and relatively transparent zebrafish retina to ascertain the time course of MG development relative to OPL synaptogenesis. The emergence of synaptic triads, indicative of functional photoreceptor circuits, and structural association with glial processes were also examined across ages by electron microscopy. We first show that MG processes form territories that tile within the inner and outer synaptic layers. We then demonstrate that cone photoreceptor synapses are assembled before the elaboration of MG processes in the OPL. Using a targeted cell ablation approach, we also determined whether the maintenance of photoreceptor synapses is perturbed when local MG are absent. We found that removal of MG had no appreciable effect on the stability of newly formed cone synapses. Thus, in contrast to other CNS circuits, contact from glia is not necessary for the formation or immediate stabilization of outer retinal synapses.
retina; glia; photoreceptor; live-cell imaging; horizontal cell; synaptogenesis
In many retinal diseases, the malfunction that results in photoreceptor loss occurs only in either rods or cones, but degeneration can progress from the affected cell type to its healthy neighbors. Specifically, in human and mouse models of Retinitis Pigmentosa the loss of rods results in the death of neighboring healthy cones. Significantly less is known about cone-initiated degenerations and their affect on neighboring cells. Sometimes rods remain normal after cone death, whereas other patients experience a loss of scotopic vision over time. The affect of cone death on neighboring cones is unknown. The zebrafish is a cone-rich animal model in which the potential for dying cones to kill neighboring healthy cones can be evaluated. We previously reported that the zebrafish cone phosphodiesterase mutant (pde6cw59) displays a rapid death of cones soon after their formation and a subsequent loss of rods in the central retina. In this study we examine morphological changes associated with cone death in vivo in pde6cw59 fish. We then use blastulae transplantations to create chimeric fish with a photoreceptor layer of mixed wild type (WT) and pde6cw59 cones. We find that the death of inoperative cones does not cause neighboring WT cone loss. The survival of WT cones is independent of transplant size and location within the retina. Furthermore, transplanted WT cones persist at least several weeks after the initial death of dysfunctional mutant cones. Our results suggest a potential for the therapeutic transplantation of healthy cones into an environment of damaged cones.
Photoreceptors; Bystander Effect; Zebrafish; Apoptosis; Phosphodiesterase; Retinal Degeneration
In animal models of retinitis pigmentosa, rod photoreceptor degeneration eventually leads to loss of cone photoreceptors. The purpose of this study was to characterize a transgenic model of rod degeneration in zebrafish.
Zebrafish transgenic for XOPS-mCFP, a membrane-targeted form of cyan fluorescent protein driven by the Xenopus rhodopsin promoter, were generated by plasmid injection. Immunohistochemistry was used to detect cell type, proliferation, and TUNEL markers in larval and adult retinas. Rod- and cone-specific transcripts were detected by RT-PCR. Visual responses in transgenic adults were measured by electroretinogram.
The XOPS promoter directed specific expression of mCFP in rods by 55 hours post fertilization (hpf). Rods in XOPS-mCFP heterozygotes began dying at 3.5 days post fertilization (dpf) and were almost completely absent by 5 dpf. A few rods were observed at the retinal margin, and numerous immature rods were observed in the outer nuclear layer (ONL) of transgenic adults. Apoptosis was increased in the ONL of larval and adult transgenic animals, and an elevation of rod precursor proliferation in adults was observed. ERG analysis confirmed that rod responses were absent in this line. Cone morphology and electrophysiology appeared normal in transgenic animals up to 7 months of age.
The XOPS-mCFP transgene causes selective degeneration of rods without secondary loss of cones in animals up to 7 months of age. This raises important questions about the significance of rod-cone interactions in zebrafish and their potential as a model of human inherited retinal degenerations.
During embryonic development of the motor system of Drosophila, motorneurons target their dendrites to different regions along the body axis in response to midline guidance cues.
A fundamental strategy for organising connections in the nervous system is the formation of neural maps. Map formation has been most intensively studied in sensory systems where the central arrangement of axon terminals reflects the distribution of sensory neuron cell bodies in the periphery or the sensory modality. This straightforward link between anatomy and function has facilitated tremendous progress in identifying cellular and molecular mechanisms that underpin map development. Much less is known about the way in which networks that underlie locomotion are organised. We recently showed that in the Drosophila embryo, dendrites of motorneurons form a neural map, being arranged topographically in the antero-posterior axis to represent the distribution of their target muscles in the periphery. However, the way in which a dendritic myotopic map forms has not been resolved and whether postsynaptic dendrites are involved in establishing sets of connections has been relatively little explored. In this study, we show that motorneurons also form a myotopic map in a second neuropile axis, with respect to the ventral midline, and they achieve this by targeting their dendrites to distinct medio-lateral territories. We demonstrate that this map is “hard-wired”; that is, it forms in the absence of excitatory synaptic inputs or when presynaptic terminals have been displaced. We show that the midline signalling systems Slit/Robo and Netrin/Frazzled are the main molecular mechanisms that underlie dendritic targeting with respect to the midline. Robo and Frazzled are required cell-autonomously in motorneurons and the balance of their opposite actions determines the dendritic target territory. A quantitative analysis shows that dendritic morphology emerges as guidance cue receptors determine the distribution of the available dendrites, whose total length and branching frequency are specified by other cell intrinsic programmes. Our results suggest that the formation of dendritic myotopic maps in response to midline guidance cues may be a conserved strategy for organising connections in motor systems. We further propose that sets of connections may be specified, at least to a degree, by global patterning systems that deliver pre- and postsynaptic partner terminals to common “meeting regions.”
How neural networks governing locomotion are organised is less well understood than those governing sensory systems. In the Drosophila embryo dendrites form the input structures of motorneurons, and are arranged along the anterior-posterior axis in the central nervous system to reflect the distribution of body wall muscles in the periphery. Here we examine how a motorneuron dendritic map develops. We find that motorneurons target their dendrites also to distinct medio-lateral territories. This map appears to be “hard-wired” in that its formation does not require synaptic input or the proper positioning of partner terminals. Instead, dendritic targeting is determined by the responsiveness of individual motorneurons to midline guidance cues, mediated by the Slit receptor Robo and the Netrin receptor Frazzled. These findings complement and mirror similar results by others on the positioning of presynaptic axon terminals, and together they suggest a central role for global guidance cues in generating connectivity by delivering partner terminals independently of one another to common “meeting regions.”
Sensory neurons with common function are often non-randomly arranged and form dendritic territories that exhibit little overlap or tiling. Repulsive homotypic interactions underlie such patterns in cell organization in invertebrate neurons. In mammalian retinal horizontal cells, however, it is unclear how dendro-dendritic repulsive interactions can produce a non-random distribution of cells and their spatial territories because mature horizontal cell dendrites overlap substantially. By imaging developing mouse horizontal cells, we found that upon reaching their final laminar positions, these cells transiently elaborate vertical neurites that form non-overlapping columnar territories. Targeted cell ablation revealed that the vertical neurites engage in homotypic interactions resulting in tiling of neighboring cells prior to establishment of their dendritic fields. This developmental tiling of transient neurites correlates with the emergence of a non-random distribution of the cells, and could represent a mechanism that organizes neighbor relationships and territories of neurons of the same type before circuit assembly.
Patterns of coordinated spontaneous activity have been proposed to guide circuit refinement in many parts of the developing nervous system. It is unclear, however, how such patterns, which are thought to indiscriminately synchronize nearby cells, could provide the cues necessary to segregate functionally distinct circuits within overlapping cell populations. Here we report that glutamatergic retinal waves possess a novel substructure in the bursting of neighboring retinal ganglion cells with opposite light responses (ON or OFF). Within a wave, cells fire repetitive non-overlapping bursts in a fixed order: ON before OFF. This pattern is absent from cholinergic waves, which precede glutamate-dependent activity, providing a developmental sequence of distinct activity-encoded cues. Asynchronous bursting of ON and OFF retinal ganglion cells depends on inhibition between these parallel pathways. Similar asynchronous activity patterns could arise throughout the nervous system as inhibition matures and might help to separate connections of functionally distinct subnetworks.
We describe a method that combines Cre-recombinase knockin mice and viral-mediated gene transfer to genetically label and functionally manipulate specific neuron types in the mouse brain. We engineered adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) that express GFP, dsRedExpress, or channelrhodopsin (ChR2) upon Cre/loxP recombination-mediated removal of a transcription-translation STOP cassette. Fluorescent labeling was sufficient to visualize neuronal structures with synaptic resolution in vivo, and ChR2 expression allowed light activation of neuronal spiking. The structural dynamics of a specific class of neocortical neuron, the parvalbumin-containing (Pv) fast-spiking GABAergic interneuron, was monitored over the course of a week. We found that although the majority of Pv axonal boutons were stable in young adults, bouton additions and subtractions on axonal shafts were readily observed at a rate of 10.10% and 9.47%, respectively, over 7 days. Our results indicate that Pv inhibitory circuits maintain the potential for structural re-wiring in post-adolescent cortex. With the generation of an increasing number of Cre knockin mice and because viral transfection can be delivered to defined brain regions at defined developmental stages, this strategy represents a general method to systematically visualize the structure and manipulate the function of different cell types in the mouse brain.
Targeting of axons and dendrites to particular synaptic laminae is an important mechanism by which precise patterns of neuronal connectivity are established. Although axons target specific laminae during development, dendritic lamination has been thought to occur largely by pruning of inappropriately placed arbors. We discovered by in vivo time-lapse imaging, that retinal ganglion cell (RGC) dendrites in zebrafish show growth patterns implicating dendritic targeting as a mechanism for contacting appropriate synaptic partners. Populations of RGCs labeled in transgenic animals establish distinct dendritic strata sequentially, predominantly from the inner to outer retina. Imaging individual cells over successive days confirmed that multistratified RGCs generate strata sequentially, each arbor elaborating within a specific lamina. Simultaneous imaging of RGCs and subpopulations of presynaptic amacrine interneurons revealed that RGC dendrites appear to target amacrine plexuses that had already laminated. Dendritic targeting of pre-patterned afferents may thus be a novel mechanism for establishing proper synaptic connectivity.
In the vertebrate retina, horizontal cells generate the inhibitory surround of bipolar cells, an essential step in contrast enhancement. For the last decades, the mechanism involved in this inhibitory synaptic pathway has been a major controversy in retinal research. One hypothesis suggests that connexin hemichannels mediate this negative feedback signal; another suggests that feedback is mediated by protons. Mutant zebrafish were generated that lack connexin 55.5 hemichannels in horizontal cells. Whole cell voltage clamp recordings were made from isolated horizontal cells and cones in flat mount retinas. Light-induced feedback from horizontal cells to cones was reduced in mutants. A reduction of feedback was also found when horizontal cells were pharmacologically hyperpolarized but was absent when they were pharmacologically depolarized. Hemichannel currents in isolated horizontal cells showed a similar behavior. The hyperpolarization-induced hemichannel current was strongly reduced in the mutants while the depolarization-induced hemichannel current was not. Intracellular recordings were made from horizontal cells. Consistent with impaired feedback in the mutant, spectral opponent responses in horizontal cells were diminished in these animals. A behavioral assay revealed a lower contrast-sensitivity, illustrating the role of the horizontal cell to cone feedback pathway in contrast enhancement. Model simulations showed that the observed modifications of feedback can be accounted for by an ephaptic mechanism. A model for feedback, in which the number of connexin hemichannels is reduced to about 40%, fully predicts the specific asymmetric modification of feedback. To our knowledge, this is the first successful genetic interference in the feedback pathway from horizontal cells to cones. It provides direct evidence for an unconventional role of connexin hemichannels in the inhibitory synapse between horizontal cells and cones. This is an important step in resolving a long-standing debate about the unusual form of (ephaptic) synaptic transmission between horizontal cells and cones in the vertebrate retina.
Contrast enhancement is a fundamental feature of our visual system, initiated at the first synaptic connections in the retina. These are the synapses between photoreceptors (rods and cones) and their targets, horizontal cells and bipolar cells. Horizontal cells receive input from many cones and subsequently send a feedback signal to photoreceptors. Bipolar cells, however, receive direct input from only a few photoreceptors, but also receive indirect inhibitory input from surrounding cones via the horizontal cell feedback pathway. This organization induces the classic center/surround organization of bipolar cells and is considered the first step in contrast enhancement. Exactly how horizontal cells send feedback signals to photoreceptors has remained a mystery, however. One hypothesis posits that connexin hemichannels are involved. In this study, we tested this hypothesis using mutant zebrafish that lack connexin hemichannels specifically in horizontal cells. Our electrophysiology experiments showed that feedback is indeed reduced in these mutants, confirming that connexin hemichannels play an important role in feedback from horizontal cells to cones. In addition, we find that these mutant fish have decreased contrast sensitivity at a behavioral level, illustrating that functionally relevant contrast enhancement begins at the first synapse of the visual system.
During development of the Drosophila motor system, global guidance cues control and coordinate the targeting of both input and output elements of the neural system.
Neural maps are emergent, highly ordered structures that are essential for organizing and presenting synaptic information. Within the embryonic nervous system of Drosophila motoneuron dendrites are organized topographically as a myotopic map that reflects their pattern of innervation in the muscle field. Here we reveal that this fundamental organizational principle exists in adult Drosophila, where the dendrites of leg motoneurons also generate a myotopic map. A single postembryonic neuroblast sequentially generates different leg motoneuron subtypes, starting with those innervating proximal targets and medial neuropil regions and producing progeny that innervate distal muscle targets and lateral neuropil later in the lineage. Thus the cellular distinctions in peripheral targets and central dendritic domains, which make up the myotopic map, are linked to the birth-order of these motoneurons. Our developmental analysis of dendrite growth reveals that this myotopic map is generated by targeting. We demonstrate that the medio-lateral positioning of motoneuron dendrites in the leg neuropil is controlled by the midline signalling systems Slit-Robo and Netrin-Fra. These results reveal that dendritic targeting plays a major role in the formation of myotopic maps and suggests that the coordinate spatial control of both pre- and postsynaptic elements by global neuropilar signals may be an important mechanism for establishing the specificity of synaptic connections.
During development the axons of sensory neurons generate highly ordered ”sensory maps„ within the nervous system that represent specific qualities of the environment. Much less is known about the anatomical organization and development of motor systems. Here, we show that the leg motoneurons of Drosophila organize their dendrites within the central nervous system in a way that reflects the position of the muscles they innervate. These motoneurons generate a ‘myotopic map’ by targeting the growth of their dendrites (sites of synaptic input) into discrete territories during development. The precise targeting of dendrites along the mediolateral axis is controlled by the signaling molecules Slit and Netrin, which are secreted by midline cells. These proteins act as global guidance cues and exert their effects via distinct signaling pathways using receptors called Roundabout and Frazzled, respectively. Previous studies have shown that Slit also helps to position the termini of axons (sites of synaptic output), independent of their synaptic partners. We suggest that the coordinated targeting of both input and output elements of a neural system into a common space using shared global guidance cues could be a simple way of establishing the specificity of synaptic connections within neural networks.
New developments in fluorophores as well as in detection methods have fueled the rapid growth of optical imaging in the life sciences. Commercial widefield microscopes generally use arc lamps, excitation/emission filters and shutters for fluorescence imaging. These components can be expensive, difficult to maintain and preclude stable illumination. Here, we describe methods to construct inexpensive and easy-to-use light sources for optical microscopy using light-emitting diodes (LEDs). We also provide examples of its applicability to biological fluorescence imaging.