Long-term cognitive disability after TBI is associated with injury-induced neurodegeneration in the hippocampus-a region in the medial temporal lobe that is critical for learning, memory and executive function. Hence our studies focus on gene expression analysis of specific neuronal populations in distinct subregions of the hippocampus. The technique of laser capture microdissection (LCM), introduced in 1996 by Emmert-Buck, et al., has allowed for significant advances in gene expression analysis of single cells and enriched populations of cells from heterogeneous tissues such as the mammalian brain that contains thousands of functional cell types. We use LCM and a well established rat model of traumatic brain injury (TBI) to investigate the molecular mechanisms that underlie the pathogenesis of TBI. Following fluid-percussion TBI, brains are removed at pre-determined times post-injury, immediately frozen on dry ice, and prepared for sectioning in a cryostat. The rat brains can be embedded in OCT and sectioned immediately, or stored several months at -80 °C before sectioning for laser capture microdissection. Additionally, we use LCM to study the effects of TBI on circadian rhythms. For this, we capture neurons from the suprachiasmatic nuclei that contain the master clock of the mammalian brain. Here, we demonstrate the use of LCM to obtain single identified neurons (injured and degenerating, Fluoro-Jade-positive, or uninjured, Fluoro-Jade-negative) and enriched populations of hippocampal neurons for subsequent gene expression analysis by real time PCR and/or whole-genome microarrays. These LCM-enabled studies have revealed that the selective vulnerability of anatomically distinct regions of the rat hippocampus are reflected in the different gene expression profiles of different populations of neurons obtained by LCM from these distinct regions. The results from our single-cell studies, where we compare the transcriptional profiles of dying and adjacent surviving hippocampal neurons, suggest the existence of a cell survival rheostat that regulates cell death and survival after TBI.
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