Recent techniques for tracing pathways in the central nervous system of developing and adult mammals

Brain Res Bull. 2000 Jan 1;51(1):11-28. doi: 10.1016/s0361-9230(99)00229-4.


Over the last 20 years, the choice of neural tracers has increased manyfold, and includes newly introduced anterograde tracers that allow quantitation of single-axon morphologies, and retrograde tracers that can be combined with intracellular fills for the study of dendritic arbors of neurons which have a specific projection pattern. The combination of several different tracers now permits the comparison of multiple connections in the same animal, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Moreover, the finding of new virus strains, which infect neural cells without killing them, provides a tool for studying multisynaptic connections that participate in a circuit. In this paper, the labeling characteristics, mechanism of transport and advantages/disadvantages of use are discussed for the following recently introduced neural tracers: carbocyanine dyes, fluorescent latex microspheres, fluorescent dextrans, biocytin, dextran amines, Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin, cholera toxin and viruses. We also suggest the choice of specific tracers, depending on the experimental animal, age and type of connection to be studied, and discuss quantitative methodologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • Central Nervous System / anatomy & histology
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology