A fourth generation of neuroanatomical tracing techniques: exploiting the offspring of genetic engineering

F.G. Wouterlood, B. Bloem, H.D. Mansvelder, A. Luchicchi, K. Deisseroth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The first three generations of neuroanatomical tract-tracing methods include, respectively, techniques exploiting degeneration, retrograde cellular transport and anterograde cellular transport. This paper reviews the most recent development in third-generation tracing, i.e., neurochemical fingerprinting based on BDA tracing, and continues with an emerging tracing technique called here 'selective fluorescent protein expression' that in our view belongs to an entirely new 'fourth-generation' class. Tracing techniques in this class lean on gene expression technology designed to 'label' projections exclusively originating from neurons expressing a very specific molecular phenotype. Genetically engineered mice that express cre-recombinase in a neurochemically specific neuronal population receive into a brain locus of interest an injection of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) carrying a double-floxed promoter-eYFP DNA sequence. After transfection this sequence is expressed only in neurons metabolizing recombinase protein. These particular neurons promptly start manufacturing the fluorescent protein which then accumulates and labels to full detail all the neuronal processes, including fibers and terminal arborizations. All other neurons remain optically 'dark'. The AAV is not replicated by the neurons, prohibiting intracerebral spread of 'infection'. The essence is that the fiber projections of discrete subpopulations of neurochemically specific neurons can be traced in full detail. One condition is that the transgenic mouse strain is recombinase-perfect. We illustrate selective fluorescent protein expression in parvalbumin-cre (PV-cre) mice and choline acetyltransferase-cre (ChAT-cre) mice. In addition we compare this novel tracing technique with observations in brains of native PV mice and ChAT-GFP mice. We include a note on tracing techniques using viruses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-348
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2014


  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Journal Article
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neuroanatomical Tract-Tracing Techniques
  • Neurons
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

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