The reconstruction of entire nervous systems jump started with the completion of the work by Sydney Brenner and collaborators in describing the entire nervous system of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. This involved reconstructing every neuron in the worm from thousands of 50 nm serial sections. Since then, any further attempts to reconstruct neuronal tissue have used small stacks of serial sections (20-50 sections) and have focused on specific dendrites or axons, i.e., parts of neurons. It was difficult or impossible to determine to what extent the characteristics of a specific set of neurites in such small samples could be generalized to other regions of the brain, or what type of neurons gave rise to such profiles. The main innovation with which these problems can be overcome now is the progress made in digital image handling: in acquisition speed, in storage capacity, and in processing power for their assembly and analysis.
We focus on an organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, that provides us with an enormous genetic toolkit for the targeted manipulation and labeling of its cells and tissues.
In the larva of the fruit fly we have the opportunity to reconstruct at least complete functional units of the nervous system, and learn important general principles about wiring patterns and the function of individual components. With the extraordinary toolkit provided by the GAL4/UAS system and the numerous GAL4 driver lines generated over decades by the fly research community, we have now the ability to specifically label single neurons whose identity is unique, and which are morphologically and genetically identifiable from animal to animal. The unique identity of neuron enables us to perform reproducible functional and behavioral assays in the context of known circuitry, in collaboration with the Zlatic lab.
Our model system of choice is the first order sensory processing centers in the abdominal segments of the larval ventral nerve cord, particularly well characterized at the optical microscopy level. Each abdominal hemisegment receives a total of 44 sensory axons, of stereotyped projection. By reconstructing the arborization and synapses of the sensory axons and their interneuron targets, and performing functional assays, we aim at elucidating important principles about the function and capabilities of neural circuits.
Anatomy of large biological specimens is often reconstructed from serially sectioned volumes imaged by high-resolution microscopy. We developed a method to reassemble a continuous volume from such large section series that explicitly minimizes artificial deformation by applying a global elastic constraint. We demonstrate our method on a series of transmission electron microscopy sections covering the entire 558-cell Caenorhabditis elegans embryo and a segment of the Drosophila melanogaster larval ventral nerve cord.
Prior Publications (19)
We present an approach for the automatic reconstruction of neurons from 3D stacks of electron microscopy sections. The core of our system is a set of possible assignments, each of which proposes with some cost a link between neuron regions in consecutive sections. These can model the continuation, branching, and end of neurons. The costs are trainable on positive assignment samples. An optimal and consistent set of assignments is found for the whole volume at once by solving an integer linear program. This set of assignments determines both the segmentation into neuron regions and the correspondence between such regions in neighboring slices. For each picked assignment, a confidence value helps to prioritize decisions to be reviewed by a human expert. We evaluate the performance of our method on an annotated volume of neural tissue and compare to the current state of the art . Our method is superior in accuracy and can be trained using a small number of samples. The observed inference times are linear with about 2 milliseconds per neuron and section.
We discuss the advantages and challenges of the open-source strategy in biological image analysis and argue that its full impact will not be realized without better support and recognition of software engineers' contributions to the biological sciences and more support of this development model from funders and institutions.
A key challenge in neuroscience is the expeditious reconstruction of neuronal circuits. For model systems such as Drosophila and C. elegans, the limiting step is no longer the acquisition of imagery but the extraction of the circuit from images. For this purpose, we designed a software application, TrakEM2, that addresses the systematic reconstruction of neuronal circuits from large electron microscopical and optical image volumes. We address the challenges of image volume composition from individual, deformed images; of the reconstruction of neuronal arbors and annotation of synapses with fast manual and semi-automatic methods; and the management of large collections of both images and annotations. The output is a neural circuit of 3d arbors and synapses, encoded in NeuroML and other formats, ready for analysis.
Fiji: an open-source platform for biological-image analysis.Nature methods 2012
J. Schindelin, I. Arganda-Carreras, E. Frise, V. Kaynig, M. Longair, T. Pietzsch, S. Preibisch, C. Rueden, S. Saalfeld, B. Schmid, J. Tinevez, D. White, V. Hartenstein, K. Eliceiri, P. Tomancak, and A. Cardona Nature methods, 9:676-82 (2012)
Fiji is a distribution of the popular open-source software ImageJ focused on biological-image analysis. Fiji uses modern software engineering practices to combine powerful software libraries with a broad range of scripting languages to enable rapid prototyping of image-processing algorithms. Fiji facilitates the transformation of new algorithms into ImageJ plugins that can be shared with end users through an integrated update system. We propose Fiji as a platform for productive collaboration between computer science and biology research communities.
The task of the visual system is to translate light into neuronal encoded information. This translation of photons into neuronal signals is achieved by photoreceptor neurons (PRs), specialized sensory neurons, located in the eye. Upon perception of light the PRs will send a signal to target neurons, which represent a first station of visual processing. Increasing complexity of visual processing stems from the number of distinct PR subtypes and their various types of target neurons that are contacted. The visual system of the fruit fly larva represents a simple visual system (larval optic neuropil, LON) that consists of 12 PRs falling into two classes: blue-senstive PRs expressing Rhodopsin 5 (Rh5) and green-sensitive PRs expressing Rhodopsin 6 (Rh6). These afferents contact a small number of target neurons, including optic lobe pioneers (OLPs) and lateral clock neurons (LNs). We combine the use of genetic markers to label both PR subtypes and the distinct, identifiable sets of target neurons with a serial EM reconstruction to generate a high-resolution map of the larval optic neuropil. We find that the larval optic neuropil shows a clear bipartite organization consisting of one domain innervated by PRs and one devoid of PR axons. The topology of PR projections, in particular the relationship between Rh5 and Rh6 afferents, is maintained from the nerve entering the brain to the axon terminals. The target neurons can be subdivided according to neurotransmitter or neuropeptide they use as well as the location within the brain. We further track the larval optic neuropil through development from first larval instar to its location in the adult brain as the accessory medulla.
Current imaging methods such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Confocal microscopy, Electron Microscopy (EM) or Selective Plane Illumination Microscopy (SPIM) yield three-dimensional (3D) data sets in need of appropriate computational methods for their analysis. The reconstruction, segmentation and registration are best approached from the 3D representation of the data set.
Identifying neuronal lineages of Drosophila by sequence analysis of axon tracts.The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2010
A. Cardona, S. Saalfeld, I. Arganda, W. Pereanu, J. Schindelin, and V. Hartenstein The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30:7538-53 (2010)
The Drosophila brain is formed by an invariant set of lineages, each of which is derived from a unique neural stem cell (neuroblast) and forms a genetic and structural unit of the brain. The task of reconstructing brain circuitry at the level of individual neurons can be made significantly easier by assigning neurons to their respective lineages. In this article we address the automation of neuron and lineage identification. We focused on the Drosophila brain lineages at the larval stage when they form easily recognizable secondary axon tracts (SATs) that were previously partially characterized. We now generated an annotated digital database containing all lineage tracts reconstructed from five registered wild-type brains, at higher resolution and including some that were previously not characterized. We developed a method for SAT structural comparisons based on a dynamic programming approach akin to nucleotide sequence alignment and a machine learning classifier trained on the annotated database of reference SATs. We quantified the stereotypy of SATs by measuring the residual variability of aligned wild-type SATs. Next, we used our method for the identification of SATs within wild-type larval brains, and found it highly accurate (93-99%). The method proved highly robust for the identification of lineages in mutant brains and in brains that differed in developmental time or labeling. We describe for the first time an algorithm that quantifies neuronal projection stereotypy in the Drosophila brain and use the algorithm for automatic neuron and lineage recognition.
An integrated micro- and macroarchitectural analysis of the Drosophila brain by computer-assisted serial section electron microscopy.PLoS biology 2010
A. Cardona, S. Saalfeld, S. Preibisch, B. Schmid, A. Cheng, J. Pulokas, P. Tomancak, and V. Hartenstein PLoS biology, 8 (2010)
The analysis of microcircuitry (the connectivity at the level of individual neuronal processes and synapses), which is indispensable for our understanding of brain function, is based on serial transmission electron microscopy (TEM) or one of its modern variants. Due to technical limitations, most previous studies that used serial TEM recorded relatively small stacks of individual neurons. As a result, our knowledge of microcircuitry in any nervous system is very limited. We applied the software package TrakEM2 to reconstruct neuronal microcircuitry from TEM sections of a small brain, the early larval brain of Drosophila melanogaster. TrakEM2 enables us to embed the analysis of the TEM image volumes at the microcircuit level into a light microscopically derived neuro-anatomical framework, by registering confocal stacks containing sparsely labeled neural structures with the TEM image volume. We imaged two sets of serial TEM sections of the Drosophila first instar larval brain neuropile and one ventral nerve cord segment, and here report our first results pertaining to Drosophila brain microcircuitry. Terminal neurites fall into a small number of generic classes termed globular, varicose, axiform, and dendritiform. Globular and varicose neurites have large diameter segments that carry almost exclusively presynaptic sites. Dendritiform neurites are thin, highly branched processes that are almost exclusively postsynaptic. Due to the high branching density of dendritiform fibers and the fact that synapses are polyadic, neurites are highly interconnected even within small neuropile volumes. We describe the network motifs most frequently encountered in the Drosophila neuropile. Our study introduces an approach towards a comprehensive anatomical reconstruction of neuronal microcircuitry and delivers microcircuitry comparisons between vertebrate and insect neuropile.
Tiled serial section Transmission Electron Microscopy (ssTEM) is increasingly used to describe high-resolution anatomy of large biological specimens. In particular in neurobiology, TEM is indispensable for analysis of synaptic connectivity in the brain. Registration of ssTEM image mosaics has to recover the 3D continuity and geometrical properties of the specimen in presence of various distortions that are applied to the tissue during sectioning, staining and imaging. These include staining artifacts, mechanical deformation, missing sections and the fact that structures may appear dissimilar in consecutive sections.
The neuroarchitecture of Acoela has been at the center of morphological debates. Some authors, using immunochemical tools, suggest that the nervous system in Acoela is organized as a commissural brain that bears little resemblance to the central, ganglionic type brain of other flatworms, and bilaterians in general. Others, who used histological staining on paraffin sections, conclude that it is a compact structure (an endonal brain; e.g., Raikova 2004; von Graff 1891; Delage Arch Zool Exp Gén 4:109-144, 1886). To address this question with modern tools, we have obtained images from serial transmission electron microscopic sections of the entire hatchling of Symsagittifera roscoffensis. In addition, we obtained data from wholemounts of hatchlings labeled with markers for serotonin and tyrosinated tubulin. Our data show that the central nervous system of a juvenile S. roscoffensis consists of an anterior compact brain, formed by a dense, bilobed mass of neuronal cell bodies surrounding a central neuropile. The neuropile flanks the median statocyst and contains several types of neurites, classified according to their types of synaptic vesicles. The neuropile issues three pairs of nerve cords that run at different dorso-ventral positions along the whole length of the body. Neuronal cell bodies flank the cords, and neuromuscular synapses are abundant. The TEM analysis also reveals different classes of peripheral sensory neurons and provides valuable information about the spatial relationships between neurites and other cell types within the brain and nerve cords. We conclude that the acoel S. roscoffensis has a central brain that is comparable in size and architecture to the brain of other (rhabditophoran) flatworms.
SUMMARY: High-resolution, three-dimensional (3D) imaging of large biological specimens generates massive image datasets that are difficult to navigate, annotate and share effectively. Inspired by online mapping applications like GoogleMaps, we developed a decentralized web interface that allows seamless navigation of arbitrarily large image stacks. Our interface provides means for online, collaborative annotation of the biological image data and seamless sharing of regions of interest by bookmarking. The CATMAID interface enables synchronized navigation through multiple registered datasets even at vastly different scales such as in comparisons between optical and electron microscopy. AVAILABILITY: http://fly.mpi-cbg.de/catmaid.
Drosophila brain development: closing the gap between a macroarchitectural and microarchitectural approach.Cold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology 2009
A. Cardona, S. Saalfeld, P. Tomancak, and V. Hartenstein Cold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology, 74:235-48 (2009)
Neurobiologists address neural structure, development, and function at the level of "macrocircuits" (how different brain compartments are interconnected; what overall pattern of activity they produce) and at the level of "microcircuits" (how connectivity and physiology of individual neurons and their processes within a compartment determine the functional output of this compartment). Work in our lab aims at reconstructing the developing Drosophila brain at both levels. Macrocircuits can be approached conveniently by reconstructing the pattern of brain lineages, which form groups of neurons whose projections form cohesive fascicles interconnecting the compartments of the larval and adult brain. The reconstruction of microcircuits requires serial section electron microscopy, due to the small size of terminal neuronal processes and their synaptic contacts. Because of the amount of labor that traditionally comes with this approach, very little is known about microcircuitry in brains across the animal kingdom. Many of the problems of serial electron microscopy reconstruction are now solvable with digital image recording and specialized software for both image acquisition and postprocessing. In this chapter, we introduce our efforts to reconstruct the small Drosophila larval brain and discuss our results in light of the published data on neuropile ultrastructure in other animal taxa.
By using a combination of dye injections, clonal labeling, and molecular markers, we have reconstructed the axonal connections between brain and ventral nerve cord of the first-instar Drosophila larva. Out of the approximately 1,400 neurons that form the early larval brain hemisphere, less than 50 cells have axons descending into the ventral nerve cord. Descending neurons fall into four topologically defined clusters located in the anteromedial, anterolateral, dorsal, and basoposterior brain, respectively. The anterolateral cluster represents a lineage derived from a single neuroblast. Terminations of descending neurons are almost exclusively found in the anterior part of the ventral nerve cord, represented by the gnathal and thoracic neuromeres. This region also contains small numbers of neurons with axons ascending into the brain. Terminals of the ascending axons are found in the same basal brain regions that also contain descending neurons. We have mapped ascending and descending axons to the previously described scaffold of longitudinal fiber tracts that interconnect different neuromeres of the ventral nerve cord and the brain. This work provides a structural framework for functional and genetic studies addressing the control of Drosophila larval behavior by brain circuits.
Dynamics of zebrafish somitogenesis.Developmental dynamics : an official publication of the American Association of Anatomists 2008
C. Schröter, L. Herrgen, A. Cardona, G. J. Brouhard, B. Feldman, and A. C. Oates Developmental dynamics : an official publication of the American Association of Anatomists, 237:545-53 (2008)
Vertebrate somitogenesis is a rhythmically repeated morphogenetic process. The dependence of somitogenesis dynamics on axial position and temperature has not been investigated systematically in any species. Here we use multiple embryo time-lapse imaging to precisely estimate somitogenesis period and somite length under various conditions in the zebrafish embryo. Somites form at a constant period along the trunk, but the period gradually increases in the tail. Somite length varies along the axis in a stereotypical manner, with tail somites decreasing in size. Therefore, our measurements prompt important modifications to the steady-state Clock and Wavefront model: somitogenesis period, somite length, and wavefront velocity all change with axial position. Finally, we show that somitogenesis period changes more than threefold across the standard developmental temperature range, whereas the axial somite length distribution is temperature invariant. This finding indicates that the temperature-induced change in somitogenesis period exactly compensates for altered axial growth.
We have analyzed brain structure in Macrostomum lignano, a representative of the basal platyhelminth taxon Macrostomida. Using confocal microscopy and digital 3D modeling software on specimens labeled with general markers for neurons (tyrTub), muscles (phalloidin), and nuclei (Sytox), an atlas and digital model of the juvenile Macrostomum brain was generated. The brain forms a ganglion with a central neuropile surrounded by a cortex of neuronal cell bodies. The neuropile contains a stereotypical array of compact axon bundles, as well as branched terminal axons and dendrites. Muscle fibers penetrate the flatworm brain horizontally and vertically at invariant positions. Beside the invariant pattern of neurite bundles, these "cerebral muscles" represent a convenient system of landmarks that help define discrete compartments in the juvenile brain. Commissural axon bundles define a dorsal and ventro-medial neuropile compartment, respectively. Longitudinal axons that enter the neuropile through an invariant set of anterior and posterior nerve roots define a ventro-basal and a central medial compartment in the neuropile. Flanking these "fibrous" compartments are neuropile domains that lack thick axon bundles and are composed of short collaterals and terminal arborizations of neurites. Two populations of neurons, visualized by antibodies against FMRFamide and serotonin, respectively, were mapped relative to compartment boundaries. This study will aid in the documentation and interpretation of patterns of gene expression, as well as functional studies, in the developing Macrostomum brain.
The early planarian embryo presents a complete ciliated epidermis and a pharynx and feeds on maternal yolk cells. In this paper, we report on all the elements involved in the formation of such an autonomous embryo, which we name cryptic larva. First, we provide a description of the spherical and fusiform yolk cells and their relationship with the blastomeres, from the laying of the egg capsule up to their final fate in mid embryonic stages. Then, we describe the early cleavage and the subsequent development of the tissues of the cryptic larva, namely, the primary epidermis, the embryonic pharynx, and a new cell type, the star cells. Finally, we discuss the possibility that the cryptic larva either constitutes a vestigial larva or, more likely, is the evolutionary result of the competition between multiple embryos for the limited and shared maternal resources in the egg capsule.
The monitoring of gene expression is fundamental for understanding developmental biology. Here we report a successful experimental protocol for in situ hybridization in both whole-mount and sectioned planarian embryos. Conventional in situ hybridization techniques in developmental biology are used on whole-mount preparations. However, given that the inherent lack of external morphological markers in planarian embryos hinders the proper interpretation of gene expression data in whole-mount preparations, here we used sectioned material. We discuss the advantages of sectioned versus whole-mount preparations, namely, better probe penetration, improved tissue preservation, and the possibility to interpret gene expression in relation to internal morphological markers such as the epidermis, the embryonic and definitive pharynges, and the gastrodermis. Optimal fixatives and embedding methods for sectioning are also discussed.
Triclad flatworms are well studied for their regenerative properties, yet little is known about their embryonic development. We here describe the embryonic development of the triclaty 120d Schmidtea polychroa, using histological and immunocytochemical analysis of whole-mount preparations and sections. During early cleavage (stage 1), yolk cells fuse and enclose the zygote into a syncytium. The zygote divides into blastomeres that dissociate and migrate into the syncytium. During stage 2, a subset of blastomeres differentiate into a transient embryonic epidermis that surrounds the yolk syncytium, and an embryonic pharynx. Other blastomeres divide as a scattered population of cells in the syncytium. During stage 3, the embryonic pharynx imbibes external yolk cells and a gastric cavity is formed in the center of the syncytium. The syncytial yolk and the blastomeres contained within it are compressed into a thin peripheral rind. From a location close to the embryonic pharynx, which defines the posterior pole, bilaterally symmetric ventral nerve cord pioneers extend forward. Stage 4 is characterized by massive proliferation of embryonic cells. Large yolk-filled cells lining the syncytium form the gastrodermis. During stage 5 the external syncytial yolk mantle is resorbed and the embryonic cells contained within differentiate into an irregular scaffold of muscle and nerve cells. Epidermal cells differentiate and replace the transient embryonic epidermis. Through stages 6-8, the embryo adopts its worm-like shape, and loosely scattered populations of differentiating cells consolidate into structurally defined organs. Our analysis reveals a picture of S. polychroa embryogenesis that resembles the morphogenetic events underlying regeneration.
Trophic factors are a heterogeneous group of molecules that promote cell growth and survival. In freshwater planarians, the small secreted protein TCEN49 is linked to the regional maintenance of the planarian central body region. To investigate its function in vivo, we performed loss-of-function and gain-of-function experiments by RNA interference and by the implantation of microbeads soaked in TCEN49, respectively. We show that TCEN49 behaves as a trophic factor involved in central body region neuron survival. In planarian tail regenerates, tcen49 expression inhibition by double-stranded RNA interference causes extensive apoptosis in various cell types, including nerve cells. This phenotype is rescued by the implantation of microbeads soaked in TCEN49 after RNA interference. On the other hand, in organisms committed to asexual reproduction, both tcen49 mRNA and its protein are detected not only in the central body region but also in the posterior region, expanding from cells close to the ventral nerve chords. In some cases, the implantation of microbeads soaked in TCEN49 in the posterior body region drives organisms to reproduce asexually, and the inhibition of tcen49 expression obstructs this process, suggesting a link between the central nervous system, TCEN49, regional induction, and asexual reproduction. Finally, the distribution of TCEN49 cysteine and tyrosine residues also points to a common evolutionary origin for TCEN49 and molluscan neurotrophins.
Dr. Cardona is recruiting for an experimentalist with skills in electrophysiology and calcium imaging, and a computer scientist with a strong background in image processing and software engineering. Please email Dr. Cardona with inquiries.
If you have specific salary requirements, please include them in your e-mail; all information is confidential. HHMI is an equal opportunity employer.