Live imaging of dense-core vesicles in primary cultured hippocampal neurons

J Vis Exp. 2009 May 29;(27):1144. doi: 10.3791/1144.

Abstract

Observing and characterizing dynamic cellular processes can yield important information about cellular activity that cannot be gained from static images. Vital fluorescent probes, particularly green fluorescent protein (GFP) have revolutionized cell biology stemming from the ability to label specific intracellular compartments and cellular structures. For example, the live imaging of GFP (and its spectral variants) chimeras have allowed for a dynamic analysis of the cytoskeleton, organelle transport, and membrane dynamics in a multitude of organisms and cell types [1-3]. Although live imaging has become prevalent, this approach still poses many technical challenges, particularly in primary cultured neurons. One challenge is the expression of GFP-tagged proteins in post-mitotic neurons; the other is the ability to capture fluorescent images while minimizing phototoxicity, photobleaching, and maintaining general cell health. Here we provide a protocol that describes a lipid-based transfection method that yields a relatively low transfection rate (~0.5%), however is ideal for the imaging of fully polarized neurons. A low transfection rate is essential so that single axons and dendrites can be characterized as to their orientation to the cell body to confirm directionality of transport, i.e., anterograde v. retrograde. Our approach to imaging GFP expressing neurons relies on a standard wide-field fluorescent microscope outfitted with a CCD camera, image capture software, and a heated imaging chamber. We have imaged a wide variety of organelles or structures, for example, dense-core vesicles, mitochondria, growth cones, and actin without any special optics or excitation requirements other than a fluorescent light source. Additionally, spectrally-distinct, fluorescently labeled proteins, e.g., GFP and dsRed-tagged proteins, can be visualized near simultaneously to characterize co-transport or other coordinated cellular events. The imaging approach described here is flexible for a variety of imaging applications and can be adopted by a laboratory for relatively little cost provided a microscope is available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytoplasmic Vesicles / ultrastructure*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / analysis
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Rats
  • Transfection

Substances

  • Green Fluorescent Proteins