K Haenraets, GW Albisetti, E Foster and H Wildner,
Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE, 2018 12 05
Selective manipulation of spinal neuronal subpopulations has mainly been achieved by two different methods: 1) Intersectional genetics, whereby double or triple transgenic mice are generated in order to achieve selective expression of a reporter or effector gene (e.g., from the Rosa26 locus) in the desired spinal population. 2) Intraspinal injection of Cre-dependent recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV); here Cre-dependent AAV vectors coding for the reporter or effector gene of choice are injected into the spinal cord of mice expressing Cre recombinase in the desired neuronal subpopulation. This protocol describes how to generate Cre-dependent rAAV vectors and how to transduce neurons in the dorsal horn of the lumbar spinal cord segments L3-L5 with rAAVs. As the lumbar spinal segments L3-L5 are innervated by those peripheral sensory neurons that transmit sensory information from the hindlimbs, spontaneous behavior and responses to sensory tests applied to the hindlimb ipsilateral to the injection side can be analyzed in order to interrogate the function of the manipulated neurons in sensory processing. We provide examples of how this technique can be used to analyze genetically defined subsets of spinal neurons. The main advantages of virus-mediated transgene expression in Cre transgenic mice compared to classical reporter mouse-induced transgene expression are the following: 1) Different Cre-dependent rAAVs encoding various reporter or effector proteins can be injected into a single Cre transgenic line, thus overcoming the need to create several multiple transgenic mouse lines. 2) Intraspinal injection limits manipulation of Cre-expressing cells to the injection site and to the time after injection. The main disadvantages are: 1) Reporter gene expression from rAAVs is more variable. 2) Surgery is required to transduce the spinal neurons of interest. Which of the two methods is more appropriate depends on the neuron population and research question to be addressed.