AAV-Mediated Anterograde Transsynaptic Tagging: Mapping Corticocollicular Input-Defined Neural Pathways for Defense Behaviors

Neuron. 2017 Jan 4;93(1):33-47. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.11.045. Epub 2016 Dec 15.


To decipher neural circuits underlying brain functions, viral tracers are widely applied to map input and output connectivity of neuronal populations. Despite the successful application of retrograde transsynaptic viruses for identifying presynaptic neurons of transduced neurons, analogous anterograde transsynaptic tools for tagging postsynaptically targeted neurons remain under development. Here, we discovered that adeno-associated viruses (AAV1 and AAV9) exhibit anterograde transsynaptic spread properties. AAV1-Cre from transduced presynaptic neurons effectively and specifically drives Cre-dependent transgene expression in selected postsynaptic neuronal targets, thus allowing axonal tracing and functional manipulations of the latter input-defined neuronal population. Its application in superior colliculus (SC) reveals that SC neuron subpopulations receiving corticocollicular projections from auditory and visual cortex specifically drive flight and freezing, two different types of defense behavior, respectively. Together with an intersectional approach, AAV-mediated anterograde transsynaptic tagging can categorize neurons by their inputs and molecular identity, and allow forward screening of distinct functional neural pathways embedded in complex brain circuits.

Keywords: AAV serotypes; Cre and Flp system; corticofugal projection; defensive behavior; flight and freezing; intersectional strategy; mapping neural circuits; superior colliculus; transsynaptic/transneuronal tracer.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / cytology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases
  • Dependovirus*
  • Escape Reaction / physiology*
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / physiology*
  • Integrases
  • Mice
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / cytology
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • Cre recombinase
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases
  • FLP recombinase
  • Integrases