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The Developmental Expression of Fluorescent Proteins in Organotypic Hippocampal Slice Cultures from Transgenic Mice and its Use in the Determination of Excitotoxic Neurodegeneration

Jens Noraberg, Carsten V. Jensen, Christian Bonde, Maria Montero, Jakob V. Nielsen, Niels A. Jensen and Jens Zimmer

Transgenic mice, expressing fluorescent proteins in neurons and glia, provide new opportunities for real-time microscopic monitoring of degenerative and regenerative structural changes. We have previously validated and compared a number of quantifiable markers for neuronal damage and cell death in organotypic brain slice cultures, such as cellular uptake of propidium iodide (PI), loss of microtubuleassociated protein 2 (MAP2), Fluoro-Jade (FJ) cell staining, and the release of cytosolic lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). An important supplement to these markers would be data on corresponding morphological changes, as well as the opportunity to monitor reversible changes or long-term effects in the event of minor damage. As a first step, we present: a) the developmental expression in organotypic hippocampal brain slice cultures of transgenic fluorescent proteins, useful for the visualisation of neuronal subpopulations and astroglial cells; and b) examples of excitotoxic, glutamate receptor-induced degeneration of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells, with corresponding astroglial reactivity in such cultures. The slice cultures were set up according to standard techniques, by using one-week old pups from four transgenic mouse strains which express fluorescent proteins in their neurons and/or astroglial cells. From the time of explantation, and subsequently for up to nine weeks in culture, the transgenic neuronal fluorescence displayed the expected characteristics of a developmental, in vivo-like increase, including both the number and localisation of cells, as well as the intensity of fluorescence. At that stage and later, the transgenic fluorescence clearly permitted the visualisation of cell bodies, larger and smaller dendritic branches, spines and axons. In separate experiments, with a 24-hour exposure of matured sliced cultures to 100µM of the glutamate agonist, N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), we observed, by time-lapse recording, a gradual, but rapid loss of fluorescent CA1 pyramidal cells, accompanied by astrogliosis of transgene fluorescent astroglial cells. Based on these results, we consider that organotypic brain slice cultures from transgenic mice, with fluorescent neurons and glia, combined with detailed visualisation by time-lapse fluorescence microscopy, have great potential for investigating both major irreversible and minor reversible structural changes in neurons and glia, induced by neurotoxins and other neurodegenerative compounds and conditions.