Developmental processes are inherently dynamic and understanding them requires quantitative measurements of gene and protein expression levels in space and time. While live imaging is a powerful approach for obtaining such data, it is still a challenge to apply it over long periods of time to large tissues, such as the embryonic spinal cord in mouse and chick. Nevertheless, dynamics of gene expression and signaling activity patterns in this organ can be studied by collecting tissue sections at different developmental stages. In combination with immunohistochemistry, this allows for measuring the levels of multiple developmental regulators in a quantitative manner with high spatiotemporal resolution. The mean protein expression levels over time, as well as embryo-to-embryo variability can be analyzed. A key aspect of the approach is the ability to compare protein levels across different samples. This requires a number of considerations in sample preparation, imaging and data analysis. Here we present a protocol for obtaining time course data of dorsoventral expression patterns from mouse and chick neural tube in the first 3 days of neural tube development. The described workflow starts from embryo dissection and ends with a processed dataset. Software scripts for data analysis are included. The protocol is adaptable and instructions that allow the user to modify different steps are provided. Thus, the procedure can be altered for analysis of time-lapse images and applied to systems other than the neural tube.
Keywords: Morphogen gradient; Neural tube; Pattern formation; Quantitative imaging; Spinal cord; Tissue development.