The Cre-loxP system is widely used for making conditional alterations to the mouse genome. Cre-mediated recombination is frequently monitored using reporter lines in which Cre expression activates a reporter gene driven by a ubiquitous promoter. Given the distinct advantages of fluorescent reporters, we developed a transgenic reporter line, termed IRG, in which DsRed-Express, a red fluorescent protein (RFP) is expressed ubiquitously prior to Cre-mediated recombination and an enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) following recombination. Besides their utility for monitoring Cre-mediated recombination, we show that in IRG mice red and green native fluorescence can be imaged simultaneously in thick tissue sections by confocal microscopy allowing for complex reconstructions to be created that are suitable for analysis of neuronal morphologies as well as neurovascular interactions in brain. IRG mice should provide a versatile tool for analyzing complex cellular relationships in both neural and nonneural tissues.†
Cre recombinase; loxP; conditional gene activation; DsRed-express; red fluorescent protein; enhanced green fluorescent protein; transgenic mice
In neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, neuronal dendrites and dendritic spines undergo significant pathological changes. Because of the determinant role of these highly dynamic structures in signaling by individual neurons and ultimately in the functionality of neuronal networks that mediate cognitive functions, a detailed understanding of these changes is of paramount importance. Mutant murine models, such as the Tg2576 APP mutant mouse and the rTg4510 tau mutant mouse have been developed to provide insight into pathogenesis involving the abnormal production and aggregation of amyloid and tau proteins, because of the key role that these proteins play in neurodegenerative disease. This review showcases the multidimensional approach taken by our collaborative group to increase understanding of pathological mechanisms in neurodegenerative disease using these mouse models. This approach includes analyses of empirical 3D morphological and electrophysiological data acquired from frontal cortical pyramidal neurons using confocal laser scanning microscopy and whole-cell patch-clamp recording techniques, combined with computational modeling methodologies. These collaborative studies are designed to shed insight on the repercussions of dystrophic changes in neocortical neurons, define the cellular phenotype of differential neuronal vulnerability in relevant models of neurodegenerative disease, and provide a basis upon which to develop meaningful therapeutic strategies aimed at preventing, reversing, or compensating for neurodegenerative changes in dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease; Amyloid; Computational modeling; Dendritic spine; Tau; Whole-cell patch-clamp
While the brain vasculature can be imaged with many methods, immunohistochemistry has distinct advantages due to its simplicity and applicability to archival tissue. However, immunohistochemical staining of the murine brain vasculature in aldehyde fixed tissue has proven elusive and inconsistent using current protocols. Here we investigated whether antigen retrieval methods could improve vascular staining in the adult mouse brain. We found that pepsin digestion prior to immunostaining unmasked widespread collagen IV staining of the cerebrovasculature in the adult mouse brain. Pepsin treatment also unmasked widespread vascular staining with laminin, but only marginally improved isolectin B4 staining and did not enhance vascular staining with fibronectin, perlecan or CD146. Collagen IV immunoperoxidase staining was easily combined with cresyl violet counterstaining making it suitable for stereological analyses of both vascular and neuronal parameters in the same tissue section. This method should be widely applicable for labeling the brain vasculature of the mouse in aldehyde fixed tissue from both normal and pathological states.
adult; antigen retrieval; blood vessels; brain; collagen IV; immunohistochemistry; mouse; pepsin
Aging is associated with deficiencies in the prefrontal cortex, including working memory impairment, and compromised integrity of neuronal dendrites. Although protein kinase C (PKC) is implicated in structural plasticity, and overactivation of PKC results in working memory impairments in young animals, the role of PKC in prefrontal cortical impairments in the aged has not been examined. This study provides the first evidence that PKC activity is associated with prefrontal cortical dysfunction in aging. Pharmacological inhibition of PKC with chelerythrine rescued working memory impairments in aged rats and enhanced working memory in aged rhesus monkeys. Improvement correlated with age, with older monkeys demonstrating a greater degree of improvement following PKC inhibition. Furthermore, PKC activity within the prefrontal cortex was inversely correlated with the length of basal dendrites of prefrontal cortical neurons, as well as with working memory performance in aged rats. Together these findings indicate that PKC is dysregulated in aged animals and that PKC inhibitors may be useful in the treatment of cognitive deficits in the elderly.
prefrontal cortex; aging; working memory; protein kinase C; dendritic spines; chelerythrine; dendrites
Anatomical alterations in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are associated with hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation, altered stress hormone levels, and psychiatric symptoms of stress-related mental illnesses. Functional imaging studies reveal impairment and shrinkage of the mPFC in such conditions, and these findings are paralleled by experimental studies showing dendritic retraction and spine loss following repeated stress in rodents. Here we extend this characterization to how repeated stress affects dendritic spine morphology in mPFC through the utilization of an automated approach which rapidly digitizes, reconstructs 3-dimensionally, and calculates geometric features of neurons. Rats were perfused after being subjected to 3 weeks of daily restraint stress (6 hours/day), and intracellular injections of Lucifer Yellow were made in layers II/III pyramidal neurons in the dorsal mPFC. To reveal spines in all angles of orientation, deconvolved high-resolution confocal laser scanning microscopy image stacks of dendritic segments were reconstructed and analyzed for spine volume, surface area, and length using a Rayburst-based automated approach (8,091 and 8,987 spines for control and stress, respectively). We found that repeated stress results in an overall decrease in mean dendritic spine volume and surface area, which was most pronounced in the distal portion of apical dendritic fields. Moreover, we observed an overall shift in the population of spines, manifested by a reduction in large spines and increase in small spines. These results suggest a failure of spines to mature and stabilize following repeated stress, and are likely to have major repercussions on function, receptor expression, and synaptic efficacy.
dendritic spine; morphometry; plasticity; prefrontal cortex; stress
Amyloid-beta (Aβ) plays a key role in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease. Pyramidal cell dendrites exposed to Aβ exhibit dramatic structural alterations, including reduced dendritic spine densities. To determine whether such structural alterations lead to electrophysiological changes, whole-cell patch clamp recordings with biocytin filling were used to assess both the electrophysiological and morphological properties of layer 3 pyramidal cells in frontal cortical slices prepared from 12-month-old Tg2576 amyloid precursor protein (APP) mutant vs. wild-type (Wt) mice. Tg2576 cells exhibited significantly increased dendritic lengths and volumes and decreased spine densities, while the total number of spines was not different from Wt. Tg2576 and Wt cells did not differ with regard to passive membrane, action potential firing or glutamatergic spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic current properties. Thus, overexpression of mutated APP in young Tg2576 mice leads to significant changes in neuronal morphological properties which do not have readily apparent functional consequences.
Amyloid-beta; Alzheimer's disease; dendritic spine; frontal; patch-clamp; slice; glutamatergic synaptic transmission
The loss of presynaptic markers is thought to represent a strong pathologic correlate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Spinophilin is a postsynaptic marker mainly located to the heads of dendritic spines. We assessed total numbers of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in the CA1 and CA3 fields of hippocampus and area 9 in 18 elderly individuals with various degrees of cognitive decline. The decrease in spinophilin-immunoreactivity was significantly related to both Braak neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) staging and clinical severity but not Aβ deposition staging. The total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in CA1 field and area 9 were significantly related to MMSE scores and predicted 23.5% and 61.9% of its variability. The relationship between total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in CA1 field and MMSE scores did not persist when adjusting for Braak NFT staging. In contrast, the total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in area 9 was still significantly related to the cognitive outcome explaining an extra 9.6% of MMSE and 25.6% of the Clinical Dementia Rating scores variability. Our data suggest that neocortical dendritic spine loss is an independent parameter to consider in AD clinicopathologic correlations.
Alzheimer’s disease; cognition; synapses; tangles
Structural changes of neurons in the brain during aging are complex and not well understood. Neurons have significant homeostatic control of essential brain functions, including synaptic excitability, gene expression, and metabolic regulation. Any deviations from the norm can have severe consequences as seen in aging and injury. In this review, we present some of the structural adaptations that neurons undergo throughout normal and pathological aging and discuss their effects on electrophysiological properties and cognition. During aging, it is evident that neurons undergo morphological changes such as a reduction in the complexity of dendrite arborization and dendritic length. Spine numbers are also decreased, and because spines are the major sites for excitatory synapses, changes in their numbers could reflect a change in synaptic densities. This idea has been supported by studies that demonstrate a decrease in the overall frequency of spontaneous glutamate receptor-mediated excitatory responses, as well as a decrease in the levels of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid and N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor expression. Other properties such as γ-aminobutyric acid A receptor-mediated inhibitory responses and action potential firing rates are both significantly increased with age. These findings suggest that age-related neuronal dysfunction, which must underlie observed decline in cognitive function, probably involves a host of other subtle changes within the cortex that could include alterations in receptors, loss of dendrites, and spines and myelin dystrophy, as well as the alterations in synaptic transmission. Together these multiple alterations in the brain may constitute the substrate for age-related loss of cognitive function.
Aging; Alzheimer’s disease; neuroscience; spatial complexity; electrophysiology; dendrites; spines
Mice with a null mutation of the presenilin 1 gene (Psen1-/-)die during late intrauterine life or shortly after birth and exhibit multiple CNS and non-CNS abnormalities, including cerebral hemorrhages and altered cortical development. The cellular and molecular basis for the developmental effects of Psen1 remain incompletely understood. Psen1 is expressed in neural progenitors in developing brain, as well as in postmitotic neurons. We crossed transgenic mice with either neuron-specific or neural progenitor-specific expression of Psen1 onto the Psen1-/- background. We show that neither neuron-specific nor neural progenitor-specific expression of Psen1 can rescue the embryonic lethality of the Psen1-/- embryo. Indeed neuron-specific expression rescued none of the abnormalities in Psen1-/- mice. However, Psen1 expression in neural progenitors rescued the cortical lamination defects, as well as the cerebral hemorrhages, and restored a normal vascular pattern in Psen1-/- embryos. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that Psen1 expression in neural progenitor cells is crucial for cortical development and reveal a novel role for neuroectodermal expression of Psen1 in development of the brain vasculature.
Cortical development; CNS hemorrhages; Familial Alzheimer’s disease; Neural progenitor cells; Presenilin 1 (PS1, Psen1); Transgenic mice; Vascular development