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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 8;102(45):16472-7. Epub 2005 Oct 26.

A genetic approach to access serotonin neurons for in vivo and in vitro studies.

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Departments of Neurosciences and Genetics, Case School of Medicine, and Case Transgenic and Targeting Core Facility, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


Serotonin (5HT) is a critical modulator of neural circuits that support diverse behaviors and physiological processes, and multiple lines of evidence implicate abnormal serotonergic signaling in psychiatric pathogenesis. The significance of 5HT underscores the importance of elucidating the molecular pathways involved in serotonergic system development, function, and plasticity. However, these mechanisms remain poorly defined, owing largely to the difficulty of accessing 5HT neurons for experimental manipulation. To address this methodological deficiency, we present a transgenic route to selectively alter 5HT neuron gene expression. This approach is based on the ability of a Pet-1 enhancer region to direct reliable 5HT neuron-specific transgene expression in the CNS. Its versatility is illustrated with several transgenic mouse lines, each of which provides a tool for 5HT neuron studies. Two lines allow Cre-mediated recombination at different stages of 5HT neuron development. A third line in which 5HT neurons are marked with yellow fluorescent protein will have numerous applications, including their electrophysiological characterization. To demonstrate this application, we have characterized active and passive membrane properties of midbrain reticular 5HT neurons, which heretofore have not been reported to our knowledge. A fourth line in which Pet-1 loss of function is rescued by expression of a Pet-1 transgene demonstrates biologically relevant levels of transgene expression and offers a route for investigating serotonergic protein structure and function in a behaving animal. These findings establish a straightforward and reliable approach for developing an array of tools for in vivo and in vitro studies of 5HT neurons.

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