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Brain Res Brain Res Protoc. 1999 Dec;4(3):367-77.

Detection of mRNA species in bulbospinal neurons isolated from the rostral ventrolateral medulla using single-cell RT-PCR.

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Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


The rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVL) contains neurons which are critically involved in the tonic and reflex control of blood pressure. Some of these neurons project to the intermediolateral cell column of the thoracolumbar spinal cord and excite preganglionic sympathetic neurons. In order to gain a better understanding of the properties of the RVL neurons at the cellular and molecular level, a protocol was developed utilizing acute dissociation and the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to study the expression of several genes in single RVL neurons. Neurons were dissociated from the RVL region of young rats, and classified as spinally projecting or non-spinal by the presence or absence of retrogradely transported fluorescent beads injected into the upper thoracic segments of the spinal cord. Individual neurons were collected by aspiration into a glass micropipette and analysed by RT-PCR. The presence of either glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) or neuron-specific enolase (NSE) mRNA was used as the criterion for selecting cells for further analysis. A subpopulation (50%) of spinally projecting, GAPDH- or NSE-positive neurons expressed mRNA for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) or phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT), indicative of catecholaminergic or C1 adrenergic neurons, respectively. Some bulbospinal RVL neurons, including those that were TH- or PNMT-positive, were also found to express mRNA for the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), noradrenaline transporter (NET), and neuronal glutamate transporter (EAAC1). The glial glutamate transporter (GLT), glycine transporter (GLYT2), glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD67) and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) transporter (GAT-1) were not expressed. The single-cell RT-PCR protocol is a powerful, yet simple and relatively rapid method for analysis of mRNA expression in a defined neuronal population. It can be combined with whole-cell patch-clamp recording prior to RT-PCR analysis, allowing linkage of the molecular analysis of mRNA expression to the electrophysiological and pharmacological properties of single neurons. The method is very sensitive, enabling mRNA transcripts in low abundance to be detected, and its application in our recent studies provided novel information about neurons involved in blood-pressure regulation at the molecular and cellular level.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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