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Mesquida-Veny, Francina, Del Río, José Antonio, Hervera, Arnau, (2021). Macrophagic and microglial complexity after neuronal injury Progress in Neurobiology , 101970

Central nervous system (CNS) injuries do not heal properly in contrast to normal tissue repair, in which functional recovery typically occurs. The reason for this dichotomy in wound repair is explained in part by macrophage and microglial malfunction, affecting both the extrinsic and intrinsic barriers to appropriate axonal regeneration. In normal healing tissue, macrophages promote the repair of injured tissue by regulating transitions through different phases of the healing response. In contrast, inflammation dominates the outcome of CNS injury, often leading to secondary damage. Therefore, an understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying this dichotomy is critical to advance in neuronal repair therapies. Recent studies highlight the plasticity and complexity of macrophages and microglia beyond the classical view of the M1/M2 polarization paradigm. This plasticity represents an in vivo continuous spectrum of phenotypes with overlapping functions and markers. Moreover, macrophage and microglial plasticity affect many events essential for neuronal regeneration after injury, such as myelin and cell debris clearance, inflammation, release of cytokines, and trophic factors, affecting both intrinsic neuronal properties and extracellular matrix deposition. Until recently, this complexity was overlooked in the translation of therapies modulating these responses for the treatment of neuronal injuries. However, recent studies have shed important light on the underlying molecular mechanisms of this complexity and its transitions and effects on regenerative events. Here we review the complexity of macrophages and microglia after neuronal injury and their roles in regeneration, as well as the underlying molecular mechanisms, and we discuss current challenges and future opportunities for treatment.

Keywords: Neuronal injury, Neuroinflammation, Macrophages, Microglia, Chemokines and cytokines, Regeneration


Convertino, D., Fabbri, F., Mishra, N., Mainardi, M., Cappello, V., Testa, G., Capsoni, S., Albertazzi, L., Luin, S., Marchetti, L., Coletti, C., (2020). Graphene promotes axon elongation through local stall of nerve growth factor signaling endosomes Nano Letters 20, (5), 3633-3641

Several works reported increased differentiation of neuronal cells grown on graphene; however, the molecular mechanism driving axon elongation on this material has remained elusive. Here, we study the axonal transport of nerve growth factor (NGF), the neurotrophin supporting development of peripheral neurons, as a key player in the time course of axonal elongation of dorsal root ganglion neurons on graphene. We find that graphene drastically reduces the number of retrogradely transported NGF vesicles in favor of a stalled population in the first 2 days of culture, in which the boost of axon elongation is observed. This correlates with a mutual charge redistribution, observed via Raman spectroscopy and electrophysiological recordings. Furthermore, ultrastructural analysis indicates a reduced microtubule distance and an elongated axonal topology. Thus, both electrophysiological and structural effects can account for graphene action on neuron development. Unraveling the molecular players underneath this interplay may open new avenues for axon regeneration applications.

Keywords: Axon elongation, Graphene, Material-neuron interface, Membrane-associated periodic skeleton, Nerve growth factor retrograde transport, Peripheral dorsal root ganglion neuron


Maleeva, Galyna, Nin-Hill, Alba, Rustler, Karin, Petukhova, Elena, Ponomareva, Daria, Mukhametova, Elvira, Gomila-Juaneda, Alexandre, Wutz, Daniel, Alfonso-Prieto, Mercedes, König, Burkhard, Gorostiza, Pau, Bregestovski, Piotr, (2020). Subunit-specific photocontrol of glycine receptors by azobenzene-nitrazepam photoswitcher eneuro 8, (1), 0294-20

Photopharmacology is a unique approach that through a combination of photochemistry methods and advanced life science techniques allows the study and control of specific biological processes, ranging from intracellular pathways to brain circuits. Recently, a first photochromic channel blocker of anion-selective GABAA receptors, Azo-NZ1, has been described. In the present study using patch-clamp technique in heterologous system and in mice brain slices, site-directed mutagenesis and molecular modelling we provide evidence of the interaction of Azo-NZ1 with glycine receptors (GlyRs) and determine the molecular basis of this interaction. Glycinergic synaptic neurotransmission determines an important inhibitory drive in the vertebrate nervous system and plays a crucial role in the control of neuronal circuits in the spinal cord and brain stem. GlyRs are involved in locomotion, pain sensation, breathing and auditory function, as well as in the development of such disorders as hyperekplexia, epilepsy and autism. Here we demonstrate that Azo-NZ1 blocks in a UV dependent manner the activity of alpha2 GlyRs (GlyR2), while being barely active on alpha1 GlyRs (GlyR1). The site of Azo-NZ1 action is in the chloride-selective pore of GlyR at the 2’ position of transmembrane helix 2 and amino acids forming this site determine the difference in Azo-NZ1 blocking activity between GlyR2 and GlyR1. This subunit specific modulation is also shown on motoneurons of brainstem slices from neonatal mice that switch during development from expressing "foetal" GlyR2 to "adult" GlyR1 receptors. Significance Statement Photochromic molecules are becoming widely used for studying and modulating various biological processes. Successful application of these compounds, whose activity can be controlled with light, potentially provides a promising tool for future therapeutic approaches. The main advantage of such compounds is their precise spatial and temporal selectivity, a property that favours specific drug action and diminishes their side effects. In the present study, we describe in detail the interaction of the novel azobenzene-nitrazepam-based photochromic compound (Azo-NZ1) with glycine receptors (GlyRs) and determine its subunit-specific blocking activity in the Cl-selective pore of GlyRs. This compound offers a new strategy for specific control of glycinergic circuits and stepping stone for design of new GlyR-active drugs.

Keywords: Brain slices, Glycine receptors, Hypoglossal motoneurons, Molecular modelling, Patch-clamp, Photopharmacology


Bos, J. J., Vinck, M., Marchesi, P., Keestra, A., van Mourik-Donga, L. A., Jackson, J. C., Verschure, P., Pennartz, C. M. A., (2019). Multiplexing of self and other information in hippocampal ensembles Cell Reports 29, (12), 3859-3871.e6

In addition to coding a subject’s location in space, the hippocampus has been suggested to code social information, including the spatial position of conspecifics. “Social place cells” have been reported for tasks in which an observer mimics the behavior of a demonstrator. We examine whether rat hippocampal neurons may encode the behavior of a minirobot, but without requiring the animal to mimic it. Rather than finding social place cells, we observe that robot behavioral patterns modulate place fields coding animal position. This modulation may be confounded by correlations between robot movement and changes in the animal’s position. Although rat position indeed significantly predicts robot behavior, we find that hippocampal ensembles code additional information about robot movement patterns. Fast-spiking interneurons are particularly informative about robot position and global behavior. In conclusion, when the animal’s own behavior is conditional on external agents, the hippocampus multiplexes information about self and others.

Keywords: CA1, Decoding, Information theory, Interneuron, Mutual information, Place cells, Place field, Tobot, Docial behavior, Tetrode


Gil, Vanessa, del Río, José Antonio, (2019). Functions of plexins/neuropilins and their ligands during hippocampal development and neurodegeneration Cells 8, (3), 206

There is emerging evidence that molecules, receptors, and signaling mechanisms involved in vascular development also play crucial roles during the development of the nervous system. Among others, specific semaphorins and their receptors (neuropilins and plexins) have, in recent years, attracted the attention of researchers due to their pleiotropy of functions. Their functions, mainly associated with control of the cellular cytoskeleton, include control of cell migration, cell morphology, and synapse remodeling. Here, we will focus on their roles in the hippocampal formation that plays a crucial role in memory and learning as it is a prime target during neurodegeneration.

Keywords: PlexinD1, Sema3E, Neuropilins, Neuronal migration, Synapse formation


Franco, Rafael, Aguinaga, David, Reyes, Irene, Canela, Enric I., Lillo, Jaume, Tarutani, Airi, Hasegawa, Masato, del Ser-Badia, Anna, del Rio, José A., Kreutz, Michael R., Saura, Carlos A., Navarro, Gemma, (2018). N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor link to the MAP kinase pathway in cortical and hippocampal neurons and microglia Is dependent on calcium sensors and Is blocked by α-Synuclein, Tau, and phospho-Tau in non-transgenic and transgenic APPSw,Ind Mice Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 11, (273), Article 273

N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) respond to glutamate to allow the influx of calcium ions and the signaling to the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade. Both MAPK- and Ca2+-mediated events are important for both neurotransmission and neural cell function and fate. Using a heterologous expression system, we demonstrate that NMDAR may interact with the EF-hand calcium-binding proteins calmodulin, calneuron-1, and NCS1 but not with caldendrin. NMDARs were present in primary cultures of both neurons and microglia from cortex and hippocampus. Calmodulin in microglia, and calmodulin and NCS1 in neurons, are necessary for NMDA-induced MAP kinase pathway activation. Remarkably, signaling to the MAP kinase pathway was blunted in primary cultures of cortical and hippocampal neurons and microglia from wild-type animals by proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases: α-synuclein, Tau, and p-Tau. A similar blockade by pathogenic proteins was found using samples from the APPSw,Ind transgenic Alzheimer’s disease model. Interestingly, a very marked increase in NMDAR–NCS1 complexes was identified in neurons and a marked increase of both NMDAR–NCS1 and NMDAR–CaM complexes was identified in microglia from the transgenic mice. The results show that α-synuclein, Tau, and p-Tau disrupt the signaling of NMDAR to the MAPK pathway and that calcium sensors are important for NMDAR function both in neurons and microglia. Finally, it should be noted that the expression of receptor–calcium sensor complexes, specially those involving NCS1, is altered in neural cells from APPSw,Ind mouse embryos/pups.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease, Calmodulin, Calneuron-1, Caldendrin, NCS1, Extracellular signal-regulated kinase, Glutamate receptor, Proximity ligation assay


Mattotti, M., Alvarez, Z., Delgado, L., Mateos-Timoneda, M. A., Aparicio, C., Planell, J. A., Alcántara, S., Engel, E., (2017). Differential neuronal and glial behavior on flat and micro patterned chitosan films Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 158, 569-577

Chitosan is a biodegradable natural polysaccharide that has been widely studied for regenerative purposes in the central nervous system. In this study we assessed the in vitro glial and neuronal cells response to chitosan either flat or patterned with grooves in the micrometric range. Chitosan demonstrated to be a good substrate for the attachment and growth of both neurons and glial cells. Chitosan micropatterns promoted glial cell maturation, suggesting astroglial activation. Nevertheless, those mature/reactive glial cells were permissive for axonal growth. Axons aligned and organized along the patterned grooves and the size of the linear topographic patterns is also affecting neurite and cell response. Patterns with 10 μm width induced fasciculation of axons, which can be useful for CNS tissue engineering substrates when precise orientation of the axonal outgrowth is desired.

Keywords: Brain, Chitosan, Glia, Micropattern, Neuron


Terni, Beatrice, Pacciolla, Paolo, Masanas, Helena, Gorostiza, Pau, Llobet, Artur, (2017). Tight temporal coupling between synaptic rewiring of olfactory glomeruli and the emergence of odor-guided behavior in Xenopus tadpoles Journal of Comparative Neurology , 525, (17), 3769-3783

Olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are chemoreceptors that establish excitatory synapses within glomeruli of the olfactory bulb. OSNs undergo continuous turnover throughout life, causing the constant replacement of their synaptic contacts. Using Xenopus tadpoles as an experimental system to investigate rewiring of glomerular connectivity, we show that novel OSN synapses can transfer information immediately after formation, mediating olfactory-guided behavior. Tadpoles recover the ability to detect amino acids 4 days after bilateral olfactory nerve transection. Restoration of olfactory-guided behavior depends on the efficient reinsertion of OSNs to the olfactory bulb. Presynaptic terminals of incipient synaptic contacts generate calcium transients in response to odors, triggering long lasting depolarization of olfactory glomeruli. The functionality of reconnected terminals relies on well-defined readily releasable and cytoplasmic vesicle pools. The continuous growth of non-compartmentalized axonal processes provides a vesicle reservoir to nascent release sites, which contrasts to the gradual development of cytoplasmic vesicle pools in conventional excitatory synapses. The immediate availability of fully functional synapses upon formation supports an age-independent contribution of OSNs to the generation of odor maps.

Keywords: Olfactory receptor neurons, Olfactory bulb, Presynaptic terminals, RRID:SCR_013731, RRID:SCR_007164, RRID: AB-887824, RRID: AB-221570, Synaptic vesicles


Urrea, Laura, Ferrer, Isidro, Gavín, Rosalina, del Río, José Antonio, (2017). The cellular prion protein (PrPC) as neuronal receptor for α-synuclein Prion , 11, (4), 226-233

The term ‘prion-like’ is used to define some misfolded protein species that propagate intercellularly, triggering protein aggregation in recipient cells. For cell binding, both direct plasma membrane interaction and membrane receptors have been described for particular amyloids. In this respect, emerging evidence demonstrates that several β-sheet enriched proteins can bind to the cellular prion protein (PrPC). Among other interactions, the physiological relevance of the binding between β-amyloid and PrPC has been a relevant focus of numerous studies. At the molecular level, published data point to the second charged cluster domain of the PrPC molecule as the relevant binding domain of the β-amyloid/PrPC interaction. In addition to β-amyloid, participation of PrPC in binding α-synuclein, responsible for neurodegenerative synucleopathies, has been reported. Although results indicate relevant participation of PrPC in the spreading of α-synuclein in living mice, the physiological relevance of the interaction remains elusive. In this comment, we focus our attention on summarizing current knowledge of PrPC as a receptor for amyloid proteins and its physiological significance, with particular focus on α-synuclein.

Keywords: α-synuclein, Charged cluster domain, Interneuronal transport, LAG3, Neurodegeneration, PrPC, Parkinson disease


Gil, V., Nocentini, S., del Río, J. A., (2014). Historical first descriptions of Cajal-Retzius cells: From pioneer studies to current knowledge Frontiers in Neuroanatomy , 8, Article 32 (9)

Santiago Ramón y Cajal developed a great body of scientific research during the last decade of 19th century, mainly between 1888 and 1892, when he published more than 30 manuscripts. The neuronal theory, the structure of dendrites and spines, and fine microscopic descriptions of numerous neural circuits are among these studies. In addition, numerous cell types (neuronal and glial) were described by Ramón y Cajal during this time using this "reazione nera" or Golgi method. Among these neurons were the special cells of the molecular layer of the neocortex. These cells were also termed Cajal cells or Retzius cells by other colleagues. Today these cells are known as Cajal-Retzius cells. From the earliest description, several biological aspects of these fascinating cells have been analyzed (e.g., cell morphology, physiological properties, origin and cellular fate, putative function during cortical development, etc). In this review we will summarize in a temporal basis the emerging knowledge concerning this cell population with specific attention the pioneer studies of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

Keywords: Calretinin, Cortical hem, Neocortical development, Pioneer neurons, Radial glia, Reelin


Álvarez, Zaida, Mateos-Timoneda, Miguel A., Hyrossová, Petra, Castaño, Oscar, Planell, Josep A., Perales, José C., Engel, Elisabeth, Alcántara, Soledad, (2013). The effect of the composition of PLA films and lactate release on glial and neuronal maturation and the maintenance of the neuronal progenitor niche Biomaterials 34, (9), 2221-2233

To develop tissue engineering strategies useful for repairing damage in the central nervous system (CNS) it is essential to design scaffolds that emulate the NSC niche and its tight control of neural cell genesis, growth, and differentiation. In this study we tested two types of poly l/dl lactic acid (PLA95/5 and PLA70/30), a biodegradable material permissive for neural cell adhesion and growth, as materials for nerve regeneration. Both PLA were slightly hydrophobic and negatively charged but differed in crystallinity, stiffness and degradation rate. PLA95/5 films were highly crystalline, stiff (GPa), and did not degrade significantly in the one-month period analyzed in culture. In contrast, PLA70/30 films were more amorphous, softer (MPa) and degraded faster, releasing significant amounts of lactate into the culture medium. PLA70/30 performs better than PLA95/5 for primary cortical neural cell adhesion, proliferation and differentiation, maintaining the pools of neuronal and glial progenitor cells in vitro. l-lactate in the medium recapitulated PLA70/30's maintenance of neuronal restricted progenitors but did not sustain bipotential or glial restricted progenitors in the cultures, as occurred when neural cells were grown on PLA70/30. Our results suggest that PLA70/30 may mimic some of the physical and biochemical characteristics of the NSC niche. Its mechanical and surface properties may act synergistically in the modulation of bipotential and glial restricted progenitor phenotypes, while it is l-lactate, either added to the medium or released by the film that drives the maintenance of neuronal restricted progenitor cell phenotypes.

Keywords: Polylactic acid, Degradation, Neurons, Progenitors, Lactate, Glial cells, NSC niche


Gorostiza, P., Isacoff, E. Y., (2008). Optical switches for remote and noninvasive control of cell signaling Science 322, (5900), 395-399

Although the identity and interactions of signaling proteins have been studied in great detail, the complexity of signaling networks cannot be fully understood without elucidating the timing and location of activity of individual proteins. To do this, one needs a means for detecting and controlling specific signaling events. An attractive approach is to use light, both to report on and control signaling proteins in cells, because light can probe cells in real time with minimal damage. Although optical detection of signaling events has been successful for some time, the development of the means for optical control has accelerated only recently. Of particular interest is the development of chemically engineered proteins that are directly sensitive to light.

Keywords: Ion channels, Acetylcholine receptor, Glutamate-receptor, Potassium channel, K+ channel, Light, Neurons, Channelrhodopsin-2, Manipulation, Activation


Morales, R., Riss, M., Wang, L., Gavin, R., Del Rio, J. A., Alcubilla, R., Claverol-Tinture, E., (2008). Integrating multi-unit electrophysiology and plastic culture dishes for network neuroscience Lab on a Chip 8, (11), 1896-1905

The electrophysiological characterisation of cultured neurons is of paramount importance for drug discovery, safety pharmacology and basic research in the neurosciences. Technologies offering low cost, low technical complexity and potential for scalability towards high-throughput electrophysiology on in vitro neurons would be advantageous, in particular for screening purposes. Here we describe a plastic culture substrate supporting low-complexity multi-unit loose-patch recording and stimulation of developing networks while retaining manufacturability compatible with low-cost and large-scale production. Our hybrid polydimethylsilane (PDMS)-on-polystyrene structures include chambers (6 mm in diameter) and microchannels (25 mu m x 3.7 mu m 1 mm) serving as substrate-embedded recording pipettes. Somas are plated and retained in the chambers due to geometrical constraints and their processes grow along the microchannels, effectively establishing a loose-patch configuration without human intervention. We demonstrate that off-the-shelf voltage-clamp, current-clamp and extracellular amplifiers can be used to record and stimulate multi-unit activity with the aid of our dishes. Spikes up to 50 pA in voltage-clamp and 300 mu V in current-clamp modes are recorded in sparse and bursting activity patterns characteristic of 1 week-old hippocampal cultures. Moreover, spike sorting employing principal component analysis (PCA) confirms that single microchannels support the recording of multiple neurons. Overall, this work suggests a strategy to endow conventional culture plasticware with added functionality to enable cost-efficient network electrophysiology.

Keywords: Electrophysiological characterisation, Cultured neurons, Polydimethylsilane (PDMS)-on-polystyrene structures