To visualize the movements of cells and their processes in developing vertebrates, we constructed replication-incompetent retroviral vectors encoding green fluorescent protein (GFP) that can be detected as a single integrated copy per cell. To optimize GFP expression, the CMV enhancer and avian beta-actin promoter were incorporated within a retrovirus construct to drive transcription of redshifted (F64L, S65T) and codon-modified GFP (EGFP), EGFP tagged with GAP-43 sequences targeting the GFP to the cell membrane, or EGFP with additional mutations that increase its ability to fold properly at 37 degrees C (S147P or V163A, S175G). We have used these viruses to efficiently mark and follow the developmental progression of a large population of cells in rat neocortex and whole avian embryos. In the chick embryo, the migration and development of GFP-marked neural crest cells were monitored using time-lapse videomicroscopy. In the neocortex, GFP clearly delineates the morphology of a variety of neuronal and glial phenotypes. Cells expressing GFP display normal dendritic morphologies, and infected cells persist into adulthood. Cortical neurons appear to form normal local axonal and long-distance projections, suggesting that the presence of cytoplasmic or GAP-43-tagged GFP does not significantly interfere with normal development.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.