Quantifying Levels of Dopaminergic Neuron Morphological Alteration and Degeneration in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Dopamine neuron loss is involved in the pathology of Parkinson's Disease (PD), a highly prevalent neurodegenerative disorder affecting over 10 million people worldwide. Since many details about PD etiology remain unknown, studies investigating genetic and environmental contributors to PD are needed to discover methods of prevention, management, and treatment. Proper characterization of dopaminergic neuronal loss may be relevant not only to PD research, but to other increasingly prevalent neurodegenerative disorders. There are established genetic and chemical models of dopaminergic neurodegeneration in the Caenorhabditis elegans model system, with easy visualization of neurobiology supported by the nematodes' transparency and invariant neuronal architecture. In particular, hermaphroditic C. elegans' dopaminergic neuron morphological changes can be visualized using strains with fluorescent reporters driven by cell-specific promotors such as the dat-1 dopamine transporter gene, which is expressed exclusively in their eight dopaminergic neurons. With the capabilities of this model system and the appropriate technology, many laboratories have studied dopaminergic neurodegeneration. However, there is little consistency in the way the data is analyzed and much of the present literature uses binary scoring analyses that capture the presence of degeneration but not the full details of the progression of neuron loss. Here, we introduce a universal scoring system to assess morphological changes and degeneration in C. elegans' cephalic neuron dendrites. This seven-point scale allows for analysis across a full range of dendrite morphology, ranging from healthy neurons to complete dendrite loss, and considering morphological details including kinks, branching, blebs, and breaks. With this scoring system, researchers can quantify subtle age-related changes as well as more dramatic chemical-induced changes. Finally, we provide a practice set of images with commentary that can be used to train, calibrate, and assess the scoring consistency of researchers new to this method. This should improve within- and between- laboratory consistency, increasing rigor and reproducibility.
Bijwadia, SR; Morton, K; Meyer, JN
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