Visualization and genetic manipulation of dendrites and spines in the mouse cerebral cortex and hippocampus using in utero electroporation

J Vis Exp. 2012 Jul 26;(65):4163. doi: 10.3791/4163.

Abstract

In utero electroporation (IUE) has become a powerful technique to study the development of different regions of the embryonic nervous system (1-5). To date this tool has been widely used to study the regulation of cellular proliferation, differentiation and neuronal migration especially in the developing cerebral cortex (6-8). Here we detail our protocol to electroporate in utero the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus and provide evidence that this approach can be used to study dendrites and spines in these two cerebral regions. Visualization and manipulation of neurons in primary cultures have contributed to a better understanding of the processes involved in dendrite, spine and synapse development. However neurons growing in vitro are not exposed to all the physiological cues that can affect dendrite and/or spine formation and maintenance during normal development. Our knowledge of dendrite and spine structures in vivo in wild-type or mutant mice comes mostly from observations using the Golgi-Cox method( 9). However, Golgi staining is considered to be unpredictable. Indeed, groups of nerve cells and fiber tracts are labeled randomly, with particular areas often appearing completely stained while adjacent areas are devoid of staining. Recent studies have shown that IUE of fluorescent constructs represents an attractive alternative method to study dendrites, spines as well as synapses in mutant / wild-type mice (10-11) (Figure 1A). Moreover in comparison to the generation of mouse knockouts, IUE represents a rapid approach to perform gain and loss of function studies in specific population of cells during a specific time window. In addition, IUE has been successfully used with inducible gene expression or inducible RNAi approaches to refine the temporal control over the expression of a gene or shRNA (12). These advantages of IUE have thus opened new dimensions to study the effect of gene expression/suppression on dendrites and spines not only in specific cerebral structures (Figure 1B) but also at a specific time point of development (Figure 1C). Finally, IUE provides a useful tool to identify functional interactions between genes involved in dendrite, spine and/or synapse development. Indeed, in contrast to other gene transfer methods such as virus, it is straightforward to combine multiple RNAi or transgenes in the same population of cells. In summary, IUE is a powerful method that has already contributed to the characterization of molecular mechanisms underlying brain function and disease and it should also be useful in the study of dendrites and spines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / chemistry
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / ultrastructure
  • Dendrites / genetics
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Electroporation / methods*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Hippocampus / chemistry
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure
  • Mice