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Mol Neurodegener. 2011 Nov 2;6:75. doi: 10.1186/1750-1326-6-75.

Generation and characterization of transgenic mice expressing mitochondrial targeted red fluorescent protein selectively in neurons: modeling mitochondriopathy in excitotoxicity and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Division of Neuropathology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, MD 21205, USA.



Mitochondria have roles or appear to have roles in the pathogenesis of several chronic age-related and acute neurological disorders, including Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and cerebral ischemia, and could be critical targets for development of rational mechanism-based, disease-modifying therapeutics for treating these disorders effectively. A deeper understanding of neural tissue mitochondria pathobiologies as definitive mediators of neural injury, disease, and cell death merits further study, and the development of additional tools to study neural mitochondria will help achieve this unmet need.


We created transgenic mice that express the coral (Discosoma sp.) red fluorescent protein DsRed2 specifically in mitochondria of neurons using a construct engineered with a Thy1 promoter, specific for neuron expression, to drive expression of a fusion protein of DsRed2 with a mitochondrial targeting sequence. The biochemical and histological characterization of these mice shows the expression of mitochondrial-targeted DsRed2 to be specific for mitochondria and concentrated in distinct CNS regions, including cerebral cortex, hippocampus, thalamus, brainstem, and spinal cord. Red fluorescent mitochondria were visualized in cerebral cortical and hippocampal pyramidal neurons, ventrobasal thalamic neurons, subthalamic neurons, and spinal motor neurons. For the purpose of proof of principle application, these mice were used in excitotoxicity paradigms and double transgenic mice were generated by crossing Thy1-mitoDsRed2 mice with transgenic mice expressing enhanced-GFP (eGFP) under the control of the Hlxb9 promoter that drives eGFP expression specifically in motor neurons and by crossing Thy1-mitoDsRed2 mice to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) mice expressing human mutant superoxide dismutase-1.


These novel transgenic mice will be a useful tool for better understanding the biology of mitochondria in mouse and cellular models of human neurological disorders as exemplified by the mitochondrial swelling and fission seen in excitotoxicity and mouse ALS.

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