In ovo electroporation in chick midbrain for studying gene function in dopaminergic neuron development

Yang, B.; Geary, L. B.; Ma, Y. C.

J Vis Exp. 2012 Aug 17; (66):e4017

Abstract

Dopaminergic neurons located in the ventral midbrain control movement, emotional behavior, and reward mechanisms. The dysfunction of ventral midbrain dopaminergic neurons is implicated in Parkinson's disease, Schizophrenia, depression, and dementia. Thus, studying the regulation of midbrain dopaminergic neuron differentiation could not only provide important insight into mechanisms regulating midbrain development and neural progenitor fate specification, but also help develop new therapeutic strategies for treating a variety of human neurological disorders. Dopaminergic neurons differentiate from neural progenitors lining the ventricular zone of embryonic ventral midbrain. The development of neural progenitors is controlled by gene expression programs. Here we report techniques utilizing electroporation to express genes specifically in the midbrain of Hamburger Hamilton (HH) stage 11 (thirteen somites, 42 hours) chick embryos. The external development of chick embryos allows for convenient experimental manipulations at specific embryonic stages, with the effects determined at later developmental time points. Chick embryonic neural tubes earlier than HH stage 13 (nineteen somites, 48 hours) consist of multipotent neural progenitors that are capable of differentiating into distinct cell types of the nervous system. The pCAG vector, which contains both a CMV promoter and a chick beta-actin enhancer, allows for robust expression of Flag or other epitope-tagged constructs in embryonic chick neural tubes. In this report, we emphasize special measures to achieve regionally restricted gene expression in embryonic midbrain dopaminergic neuron progenitors, including how to inject DNA constructs specifically into the embryonic midbrain region and how to pinpoint electroporation with small custom-made electrodes. Analyzing chick midbrain at later stages provides an excellent in vivo system for plasmid vector-mediated gain-of-function and loss-of-function studies of midbrain development. Modification of the experimental system may extend the assay to other parts of the nervous system for performing fate mapping analysis and for investigating the regulation of gene expression.

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