In vivo time-lapse imaging of cell proliferation and differentiation in the optic tectum of Xenopus laevis tadpoles

J Comp Neurol. 2012 Feb 1;520(2):401-33. doi: 10.1002/cne.22795.


We analyzed the function of neural progenitors in the developing central nervous system of Xenopus laevis tadpoles by using in vivo time-lapse confocal microscopy to collect images through the tectum at intervals of 2-24 hours over 3 days. Neural progenitor cells were labeled with fluorescent protein reporters based on expression of endogenous Sox2 transcription factor. With this construct, we identified Sox2-expressing cells as radial glia and as a component of the progenitor pool of cells in the developing tectum that gives rise to neurons and other radial glia. Lineage analysis of individual radial glia and their progeny demonstrated that less than 10% of radial glia undergo symmetric divisions resulting in two radial glia, whereas the majority of radial glia divide asymmetrically to generate neurons and radial glia. Time-lapse imaging revealed the direct differentiation of radial glia into neurons. Although radial glia may guide axons as they navigate to the superficial tectum, we find no evidence that radial glia function as a scaffold for neuronal migration at early stages of tectal development. Over 3 days, the number of labeled cells increased 20%, as the fraction of radial glia dropped and the proportion of neuronal progeny increased to approximately 60% of the labeled cells. Tadpoles provided with short-term visual enhancement generated significantly more neurons, with a corresponding decrease in cell proliferation. Together these results demonstrate that radial glial cells are neural progenitors in the developing optic tectum and reveal that visual experience increases the proportion of neurons generated in an intact animal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Larva / anatomy & histology*
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors / genetics
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi / cytology*
  • Superior Colliculi / growth & development
  • Time-Lapse Imaging*
  • Xenopus Proteins / genetics
  • Xenopus Proteins / metabolism
  • Xenopus laevis / anatomy & histology*
  • Xenopus laevis / growth & development


  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors
  • Xenopus Proteins
  • sox2 protein, Xenopus
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins