Application of Recombinant Rabies Virus to Xenopus Tadpole Brain

eNeuro. 2021 Jun 7;8(4):ENEURO.0477-20.2021. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0477-20.2021. Online ahead of print.


The Xenopus laevis experimental system has provided significant insight into the development and plasticity of neural circuits. Xenopus neuroscience research would be enhanced by additional tools to study neural circuit structure and function. Rabies viruses are powerful tools to label and manipulate neural circuits and have been widely used to study mesoscale connectomics. Whether rabies virus can be used to transduce neurons and express transgenes in Xenopus has not been systematically investigated. Glycoprotein-deleted rabies virus transduces neurons at the axon terminal and retrogradely labels their cell bodies. We show that glycoprotein-deleted rabies virus infects local and projection neurons in the Xenopus tadpole when directly injected into brain tissue. Pseudotyping glycoprotein-deleted rabies with EnvA restricts infection to cells with exogenous expression of the EnvA receptor, TVA. EnvA pseudotyped virus specifically infects tadpole neurons with promoter-driven expression of TVA, demonstrating its utility to label targeted neuronal populations. Neuronal cell types are defined by a combination of features including anatomical location, expression of genetic markers, axon projection sites, morphology, and physiological properties. We show that driving TVA expression in one hemisphere and injecting EnvA pseudotyped virus into the contralateral hemisphere, retrogradely labels neurons defined by cell body location and axon projection site. Using this approach, rabies can be used to identify cell types in Xenopus brain and simultaneously to express transgenes which enable monitoring or manipulation of neuronal activity. This makes rabies a valuable tool to study the structure and function of neural circuits in Xenopus.Significance StatementStudies in Xenopus have contributed a great deal to our understanding of brain circuit development and plasticity, regeneration, and hormonal regulation of behavior and metamorphosis. Here, we show that recombinant rabies virus transduces neurons in the Xenopus tadpole, enlarging the toolbox that can be applied to studying Xenopus brain. Rabies can be used for retrograde labeling and expression of a broad range of transgenes including fluorescent proteins for anatomical tracing and studying neuronal morphology, voltage or calcium indicators to visualize neuronal activity, and photo- or chemosensitive channels to control neuronal activity. The versatility of these tools enables diverse experiments to analyze and manipulate Xenopus brain structure and function, including mesoscale connectivity.

Keywords: Recombinant rabies virus; Xenopus; mesoscale connectomics; optic tectum; retrograde labeling.