11:15pm Sunday 13 October 2019

A novel tool for studying the Central Nervous System in vivo

CNS and made it to the cover of Development.

What makes this tool so interesting?
Dietmar: Synapse formation, maturation, elimination and plasticity are essential for the function of all nervous systems. However, as it is extremely difficult to visualize and manipulate  specific neurons and synapses in the enormously complex CNS, addressing experimentally the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying these processes is technically challenging. We made use of the power of Drosophila genetics to establish tools allowing visualization and manipulation
of identified sensory neurons at high efficiency and single-cell resolution. This allows comparison of
central axonal patterning and synapse formation in the very same neuron across multiple animals, and opens up the possibility to address the function of specific genes in CNS development as well as carry out genetic screens. As a proof-of-principle, we have already described the functions of different genes in development of these sensory neurons.

You collaborated closely with the Bio Imaging Core in Ghent, can you explain?
Olivier: We further extended the resolution of our analyses by developing, together with the VIB Bio Imaging Core, a protocol for 3-dimensional correlative light and electron microscopy (3D CLEM) at the level of single pre-synaptic active zones. This allowed us to determine ultrastructural features of the sensory neuron synapses, which will also be invaluable in the future for the analysis of novel mutants affecting synapse formation. The recent advent of automated, 3-dimensional block-face scanning electron microscopy (3D SEM) bears high promises for exploring connectivity of neural circuits, and is especially powerful in combination with genetic tools and light
microscopy data.

How does the new 3D SEM technology in the Bio Imaging Core make VIB research stand out?
Chris: This technology is quite new to biological research and the installation of two such systems in VIB, through a special EUR 3 million CLEM grant and additional help from the technology fund, makes us one of the few locations in the world to fully exploit it. We can image specimens at resolutions down to 5 cubic nanometers and also serially section blocks as large as 500 microns, giving us large volumes of data at the nanoscale. Having these systems at VIB empowers our scientists by giving them access to a rare resource and accompanying experts, such as Saskia Lippens and Anneke Kremer, who can help them use it. Collaboration with Dietmar Schmucker’s
team pioneered our application of CLEM techniques to the CNS, and with various VIB groups we now
have several ongoing projects making use of such techniques.

Urwyler, et al.
Development, 2015

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