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J Vis Exp. 2012 Oct 6;(68). pii: 4093. doi: 10.3791/4093.

Expansion of embryonic and adult neural stem cells by in utero electroporation or viral stereotaxic injection.

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  • 1DFG - Research Center and Cluster of Excellence for Regenerative Therapies Dresden, Germany.


Somatic stem cells can divide to generate additional stem cells (expansion) or more differentiated cell types (differentiation), which is fundamental for tissue formation during embryonic development and tissue homeostasis during adulthood (1). Currently, great efforts are invested towards controlling the switch of somatic stem cells from expansion to differentiation because this is thought to be fundamental for developing novel strategies for regenerative medicine (1,2). However, a major challenge in the study and use of somatic stem cell is that their expansion has been proven very difficult to control. Here we describe a system that allows the control of neural stem/progenitor cell (altogether referred to as NSC) expansion in the mouse embryonic cortex or the adult hippocampus by manipulating the expression of the cdk4/cyclinD1 complex, a major regulator of the G1 phase of the cell cycle and somatic stem cell differentiation (3,4). Specifically, two different approaches are described by which the cdk4/cyclinD1 complex is overexpressed in NSC in vivo. By the first approach, overexpression of the cell cycle regulators is obtained by injecting plasmids encoding for cdk4/cyclinD1 in the lumen of the mouse telencephalon followed by in utero electroporation to deliver them to NSC of the lateral cortex, thus, triggering episomal expression of the transgenes (5-8). By the second approach, highly concentrated HIV-derived viruses are stereotaxically injected in the dentate gyrus of the adult mouse hippocampus, thus, triggering constitutive expression of the cell cycle regulators after integration of the viral construct in the genome of infected cells (9). Both approaches, whose basic principles were already described by other video protocols (10-14), were here optimized to i) reduce tissue damage, ii) target wide portions of very specific brain regions, iii) obtain high numbers of manipulated cells within each region, and iv) trigger high expression levels of the transgenes within each cell. Transient overexpression of the transgenes using the two approaches is obtained by different means i.e. by natural dilution of the electroporated plasmids due to cell division or tamoxifen administration in Cre-expressing NSC infected with viruses carrying cdk4/cyclinD1 flanked by loxP sites, respectively (9,15). These methods provide a very powerful platform to acutely and tissue-specifically manipulate the expression of any gene in the mouse brain. In particular, by manipulating the expression of the cdk4/cyclinD1 complex, our system allows the temporal control of NSC expansion and their switch to differentiation, thus, ultimately increasing the number of neurons generated in the mammalian brain. Our approach may be critically important for basic research and using somatic stem cells for therapy of the mammalian central nervous system while providing a better understanding of i) stem cell contribution to tissue formation during development, ii) tissue homeostasis during adulthood, iii) the role of adult neurogenesis in cognitive functions, and perhaps, iv) better using somatic stem cells in models of neurodegenerative diseases.

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