Isolation of inflammatory cells from rat brain tissue after stroke
© Möller et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012
Received: 3 September 2012
Accepted: 1 October 2012
Published: 2 October 2012
The pathophysiology of sterile inflammation following focal ischemic stroke is complex and not fully understood, but there is growing evidence that it offers several therapeutic options beyond the hitherto existing treatment strategies. The identification and quantification of infiltrating inflammatory cells in animal models of stroke is crucial both for understanding post-stroke inflammation and for drug target identification. Multicolor flow cytometry plays an important role in determining subtypes and quantity of leukocytes that infiltrate the brain tissue after stroke. Until now, most investigations have been performed in mice, most likely due to a significantly broader spectrum of disposable antibodies and available knockout models. Here, we introduce a specific and reproducible method to isolate leukocytes from rat brain specimen in the context of brain ischemia to ultimately allow multi-dimensional flow cytometric characterization and further downstream methods such as cell-subtype sorting and molecular biological approaches.
Cerebral stroke is still one of the main causes of death and acquired disabilities worldwide. The sole established therapeutic option is thrombolysis, which is severely limited by a narrow time window and several contraindications . Cumulatively, only 5 - 13% of stroke patients benefit from clot lysis [2, 3] whereas the remaining survivors have to be content with symptomatic and preventive treatments. The situation is even worse for patients suffering from hemorrhagic stroke where no causal treatment is available. Hence, numerous preclinical and clinical trials have been performed to test novel treatment options to ultimately reach more stroke patients .
Amongst others, the modulation of inflammatory responses became a promising approach to treat cerebral ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke even days beyond the time window for thrombolysis . The sterile inflammation after stroke was initially considered to be merely adverse and many pharmacological agents have been proposed to block this event . However, recent evidence indicates a much more complex and partly conflicting picture . Mostly by employing different knock-out mouse models, it has been emphasized that, in the early phase after stroke, T-cells act primarily detrimental [8, 9] whereas B-cells seem to rather protect the injured brain . The role of regulatory T-cells is still controversially discussed [11, 12] and scarce knowledge is available about specific Th1, Th2 and Th17 responses  or the possible development of post-stroke autoimmunity and its sequelae .
Hence it is clear that the identification and quantification of infiltrating inflammatory cells in animal models of stroke is critical for understanding the complex processes of post-stroke inflammation and for the identification of novel therapeutic targets. Multicolour flow cytometry has turned out to be the gold standard to achieve this goal since it allows the simultaneous identification and quantification of several immune cell subtypes without the need to bias the system by in vivo staining or genetic manipulations .
Most work in the field has been done in mouse models of cerebral stroke [9, 10, 15, 16], particularly due to a broader availability of antibodies and the possibility to use knockout models. However an important part of stroke research and therapy development is done in rats, since these animals allow sophisticated functional testing which is still considered to be the most important surrogate for therapeutic efficacy in stroke research. The isolation of inflammatory cells from rat brain tissue has been described earlier , but low cell yields may limit further analyses and necessitate pooling of biological replicates . We therefore introduce a step-by-step protocol that was specifically developed to isolate high numbers of CD45-positive cells from ischemic rat brain tissue. The obtained cell suspensions can be analyzed by multi-dimensional flow cytometry or can be further enriched by immunoselection to ultimately perform highly specific downstream analyses.
Phosphate buffered saline (PBS) without CaCl2 and MgSO4, pH 7.4
Hanks balanced salt solution (HBSS; H9269, Sigma, Taufkirchen, Germany)
Modified HBSS, without CaCl2 and MgSO4 (H9394, Sigma)
Collagenase I-A (stock solution 20 mg/ml; C2674, Sigma)
DNase I (stock solution 2000 U/ml in PBS; 11284932001, Roche, Mannheim, Germany)
Percoll (17-0891-01, GE Healthcare, Munich, Germany)
NaCl 1.5 M
Fetal bovine serum (FBS; heat inactivated; PAN-Biotech, Aidenbach, Germany)
Prepare stock isotonic Percoll (SIP) by mixing nine parts of Percoll with one part NaCl 1.5 M.
Dilute SIP to lower densities (80%, 38% and 21%) by adding appropriate volumes of HBSS (Ca2+/Mg2+ free) containing 3% of fetal bovine serum.
Digestion buffer (7.5 ml per brain hemisphere)
Add each 375 μl of Collagenase I-A stock solution (final concentration 1 mg/ml) and DNase I stock solution (final concentration 100 U/ml) to 6.75 ml HBSS.
Washing buffer (for 30 ml)
Mix 1.5 ml of DNase I stock solution (final concentration 100 U/ml) and 900 μl of fetal bovine serum with 27.6 ml HBSS.
Euthanasia chamber (CO2)
Equipment for transcardial perfusion (Pump, tubes and needle)
Dissecting set (Metzenbaum scissors curved and straight, standard pattern forceps, tissue forceps, hemostats curved and straight)
Polypropylene falcon conical tubes 15 ml and 50 ml
Falcon cell strainer 40 μm (BD352340, BD Biosciences, Heidelberg, Germany)
Scalpel or razor blade
PVC serum pipettes 150mm (612361, Greiner Bioscience, Frickenhausen, Germany)
Glass pasteur pipettes 150mm (4518, Carl Roth, Karlsruhe, Germany; with modified blunt openings of two different widths, adjustment is done by fire polishing to diameters of 0.5 mm and 1 mm)
MACSmix tube rotator (130-090-753, Miltenyi Biotec, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany) or equivalent system for heat incubation
All animal experiments must conform to according standards for animal care (e.g. the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals published by the US National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 85–23, revised 1996) and have to be approved by the appropriate authority.
Exemplarily, permanent right middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) or sham surgery was induced in male spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR, aging 12 weeks; Janvier, Le Genest-St-Isle, France) as described earlier [18, 19]. Animals were sacrificed either 24h or 96h after surgery.
Perfusion and sampling
Animals are deeply anesthetized (e.g. with ketamine ketamine hydrochloride (100 mg/kg) and xylacine (10 mg/kg)) and sacrificed by CO2 exposition.
Transcardial perfusion with 200 mL PBS (4°C), decapitation, dissection of brain and removal of meninges, cerebellum and bulbus olfactorius (Figure 1).
Separation of hemispheres using a razor blade. Hemispheres can be kept short-term (< 45 minutes) in HBSS on ice.
Single hemispheres are mechanically dissociated by chopping the tissue approximately 120 times with a razor blade. Meanwhile, tissue must be moistened with 1mL of digestion buffer to prevent drying.
Enzymatic dissociation (37°C)
Obtained cell suspension is mixed with the remaining 6.5 mL digestion buffer and transferred to a 15 mL tube using a PVC serum pipette
Suspension is then incubated under slow continuous rotation at 37°C for 45 minutes. The incubation is stopped by two additional mechanical trituration steps: after 15 minutes the suspension is slowly pipetted up and down (10 times) with a PVC serum pipette; after 35 minutes the suspension is completely dissociated by pipetting 10 times up and down with each of the two firepolished glass pipettes, using the wider tipped first.
Suspension is then filtered through a 40μm cell strainer, rinsed with 15 ml washing buffer and pelleted at 300xg for 8 minutes at room temperature. The supernatant is aspirated carefully, and the washing and centrifugation steps are subsequently repeated.
Density gradient centrifugation (Room temperature)
The cell pellet is resuspended in 10 ml of 80% SIP and transferred to a 50 ml tube. Using a 10 ml serum pipette, 10 ml of 38% SIP are slowly layered on top of the cell suspension followed by another 10 ml of 21% SIP. Finally the gradient is covered with 5 ml of HBSS containing 3% FBS (Figure 2).
Centrifugation is performed at 480xg for 35 minutes at 18°C with minimal acceleration and no brake using a swinging bucket rotor.
The top layer and the first interphase (containing myelin and debris) as well as the second layer and second interphase (containing mostly CD45-negative cells and low amounts of microglia) are gently aspirated and discarded (Figure 2).
The fraction accumulated at the third interphase (Figure 2) is collected into a fresh 50 ml tube using a PVC serum pipette.
Cells are diluted to a volume of 30 ml by adding HBSS (Ca/Mg free) containing 3% of FBS and gently tossed.
Centrifugation is done at 300xg for 8 minutes, supernatant is discarded and the resulting cell pellet is resuspended in a small volume of HBSS buffer, transferred to a new 15 ml tube and washed again.
The resulting cell pellet is resuspended in an appropriate amount of FACS-buffer (Ca2+/Mg2+ free PBS containing 3% FBS) for quantification, antibody labelling and adjacent analysis. Suspension is kept at 4°C.
Quantification and processing for flow cytometry (4°C)
Isolated immune cells are stained with trypanblue and quantified in a hemacytometer. Viability is calculated by the ratio of trypanblue positive and negative cells.
According to cell yield and flow requirements aliquots of up to 1x105 cells are adjusted in 100 μl cold (4°C) FACS-buffer.
Prior to antibody labeling, cells are incubated with FC-blocking reagent (purified anti-rat CD16) at 4°C for 20 minutes to prevent unspecific binding. Antibody panels for brain immune cell characterization used in our experiments consist of up to 8 fluorochrome conjugated antibodies and essentially contain the pan-leukocyte-marker anti-CD45.
Highly reproducible results as shown by low variability of viable cell yield and proportion of CD45+ cells within the lifegate
Purified immune cell suspension with low contamination of debris and unwanted cells
Cell yield per hemisphere is sufficient to either measure up to three different flow panels or subject cells to additional experimental procedures
Time consuming protocol (4 to 5 hours until purified cell suspension is obtained)
Multi-step protocol and technically complex procedures (especially trituration and setup of multilayer gradients), requires significant training to produce reliable results
The assessment of post-ischemic inflammation in the brain by multicolour flow cytometry not only allows a deeper understanding of immunological processes that substantially influence the development and outcome, but may as well be a promising tool to detect new therapeutic approaches to selectively stimulate beneficial pathways in the subacute course of stroke pathology. Therefore our study provides the fundamental methodology to implement such analyses onto the laboratory rat, which offers good options to combine functional testing with neuroimmunological data.
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