Anterograde tracing method using DiI to label vagal innervation of the embryonic and early postnatal mouse gastrointestinal tract

J Neurosci Methods. 2007 Jul 30;163(2):213-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2007.03.001. Epub 2007 Mar 12.


The mouse is an extremely valuable model for studying vagal development in relation to strain differences, genetic variation, gene manipulations or pharmacological manipulations. Therefore, a method using 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI) was developed for labeling vagal innervation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in embryonic and postnatal mice. DiI labeling was adapted and optimized for this purpose by varying several facets of the method. For example, insertion and crushing of DiI crystals into the nerve led to faster DiI diffusion along vagal axons and diffusion over longer distances as compared with piercing the nerve with a micropipette tip coated with dried DiI oil. Moreover, inclusion of EDTA in the fixative reduced leakage of DiI out of nerve fibers that occurred with long incubations. Also, mounting labeled tissue in PBS was superior to glycerol with n-propyl gallate, which resulted in reduced clarity of DiI labeling that may have been due to DiI leaking out of fibers. Optical sectioning of flattened wholemounts permitted examination of individual tissue layers of the GI tract wall. This procedure aided identification of nerve ending types because in most instances each type innervates a different tissue layer. Between embryonic day 12.5 and postnatal day 8, growth of axons into the GI tract, formation and patterning of fiber bundles in the myenteric plexus and early formation of putative afferent and efferent nerve terminals were observed. Thus, the DiI tracing method developed here has opened up a window for investigation during an important phase of vagal development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / physiology
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Carbocyanines / pharmacokinetics*
  • Diffusion / drug effects
  • Drug Delivery Systems / instrumentation
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods
  • Edetic Acid / pharmacology
  • Enteric Nervous System / cytology
  • Enteric Nervous System / embryology*
  • Enteric Nervous System / growth & development
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / innervation*
  • Growth Cones / ultrastructure
  • Image Cytometry / methods
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Myenteric Plexus / embryology
  • Myenteric Plexus / growth & development
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Sodium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*
  • Vagus Nerve / cytology
  • Vagus Nerve / embryology*
  • Vagus Nerve / growth & development


  • Carbocyanines
  • 3,3'-dioctadecylindocarbocyanine
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Edetic Acid