Transgenic technologies enable the manipulation and observation of circuits controlling behavior by permitting expression of genetically encoded reporter genes in neurons. Frequently though, neuronal expression is accompanied by transgene expression in non-neuronal tissues, which may preclude key experimental manipulations, including assessment of the contribution of neurons to behavior by ablation. To better restrict transgene expression to the nervous system in zebrafish larvae, we have used DNA sequences derived from the neuron-restrictive silencing element (NRSE). We find that one such sequence, REx2, when used in conjunction with several basal promoters, robustly suppresses transgene expression in non-neuronal tissues. Both in transient transgenic experiments and in stable enhancer trap lines, suppression is achieved without compromising expression within the nervous system. Furthermore, in REx2 enhancer trap lines non-neuronal expression can be de-repressed by knocking down expression of the NRSE binding protein RE1-silencing transcription factor (Rest). In one line, we show that the resulting pattern of reporter gene expression coincides with that of the adjacent endogenous gene, hapln3. We demonstrate that three common basal promoters are susceptible to the effects of the REx2 element, suggesting that this method may be useful for confining expression from many other promoters to the nervous system. This technique enables neural specific targeting of reporter genes and thus will facilitate the use of transgenic methods to manipulate circuit function in freely behaving larvae.
Keywords: NRSE; ablation; enhancer trap; rest; transgenesis; zebrafish.