Simultaneous analysis of dendritic spine density, morphology and excitatory glutamate receptors during neuron maturation in vitro by quantitative immunocytochemistry

Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.
Journal of Neuroscience Methods (Impact Factor: 2.05). 04/2012; 207(2):137-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2012.04.003
Source: PubMed


Alterations in the density and morphology of dendritic spines are characteristic of multiple cognitive disorders. Elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying spine alterations are facilitated by the use of experimental and analytical methods that permit concurrent evaluation of changes in spine density, morphology and composition. Here, an automated and quantitative immunocytochemical method for the simultaneous analysis of changes in the density and morphology of spines and excitatory glutamate receptors was established to analyze neuron maturation, in vitro. In neurons of long-term neuron-glia co-cultures, spine density as measured by drebrin cluster fluorescence, increased from DIV (days in vitro)10 to DIV18 (formation phase), remained stable from DIV18 to DIV21 (maintenance phase), and decreased from DIV21 to DIV26 (loss phase). The densities of spine-localized NMDAR and AMPAR clusters followed a similar trend. Spine head sizes as measured by the fluorescence intensities of drebrin clusters increased from DIV10 to DIV21 and decreased from DIV21 to DIV26. Changes in the densities of NR1-only, GluR2-only, and NR1+GluR2 spines were measured by the colocalizations of NR1 and GluR2 clusters with drebrin clusters. The densities of NR1-only spines remained stable from the maintenance to the loss phases, while GluR2-only and NR1+GluR2 spines decreased during the loss phase, thus suggesting GluR2 loss as a proximal molecular event that may underlie spine alterations during neuron maturation. This study demonstrates a sensitive and quantitative immunocytochemical method for the concurrent analysis of changes in spine density, morphology and composition, a valuable tool for determining molecular events involved in dendritic spine alterations.

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    • "As previously described (Nwabuisi-Heath et al., 2012), drebrin, GluN1 and GluA2 cluster quantifications were performed with ImageJ NIH software using custom plugins. For co-localization analysis, juxtaposed (within 1 pixel distance) and overlapping clusters were measured as co-localized. "
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