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J Vis Exp. 2012 Oct 16;(68). pii: 4384. doi: 10.3791/4384.

In ovo electroporation of miRNA-based plasmids in the developing neural tube and assessment of phenotypes by DiI injection in open-book preparations.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich, Switzerland.


Commissural dI1 neurons have been extensively studied to elucidate the mechanisms underlying axon guidance during development(1,2). These neurons are located in the dorsal spinal cord and send their axons along stereotyped trajectories. Commissural axons initially project ventrally towards and then across the floorplate. After crossing the midline, these axons make a sharp rostral turn and project longitudinally towards the brain. Each of these steps is regulated by the coordinated activities of attractive and repulsive guidance cues. The correct interpretation of these cues is crucial to the guidance of axons along their demarcated pathway. Thus, the physiological contribution of a particular molecule to commissural axon guidance is ideally investigated in the context of the living embryo. Accordingly, gene knockdown in vivo must be precisely controlled in order to carefully distinguish axon guidance activities of genes that may play multiple roles during development. Here, we describe a method to knockdown gene expression in the chicken neural tube in a cell type-specific, traceable manner. We use novel plasmid vectors(3) harboring cell type-specific promoters/enhancers that drive the expression of a fluorescent protein marker, followed directly by a miR30-RNAi transcript(4) (located within the 3'-UTR of the cDNA encoding the fluorescent protein) (Figure 1). When electroporated into the developing neural tube, these vectors elicit efficient downregulation of gene expression and express bright fluorescent marker proteins to enable direct tracing of the cells experiencing knockdown(3). Mixing different RNAi vectors prior to electroporation allows the simultaneous knockdown of two or more genes in independent regions of the spinal cord. This permits complex cellular and molecular interactions to be examined during development, in a manner that is fast, simple, precise and inexpensive. In combination with DiI tracing of commissural axon trajectories in open-book preparations(5), this method is a useful tool for in vivo studies of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of commissural axon growth and guidance. In principle, any promoter/enhancer could be used, potentially making the technique more widely applicable for in vivo studies of gene function during development(6). This video first demonstrates how to handle and window eggs, the injection of DNA plasmids into the neural tube and the electroporation procedure. To investigate commissural axon guidance, the spinal cord is removed from the embryo as an open-book preparation, fixed, and injected with DiI to enable axon pathways to be traced. The spinal cord is mounted between coverslips and visualized using confocal microscopy.

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