Conditional ablation of neurones in transgenic mice

A R Isles, D Ma, C Milsom, M J Skynner, W Cui, J Clark, E B Keverne, N D Allen

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Conditional targeted ablation of specific cell populations in living transgenic animals is a very powerful strategy to determine cell functions in vivo. This approach would be of particular value to study the functions of distinct neuronal populations; however, the transgene of choice for conditional cell ablation studies in mice, the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene, cannot be used to ablate neurones as its principal mode of action relies on cell proliferation. Here we report that expression of the E.coli nitroreductase gene (Ntr) and metabolism of the prodrug CB1954 (5-aziridin-1-yl-2-4-dinitrobenzamide) to its cytotoxic derivative can be used to conditionally and acutely ablate specific neuronal populations in vivo. As proof of principal, we have ablated olfactory and vomeronasal receptor neurones by expressing Ntr under the control of the olfactory marker protein (OMP) gene promoter. We demonstrate that following CB1954 administration, olfactory and vomeronasal receptor neurones expressing the transgene were selectively eliminated from the olfactory epithelium (OE), and projections to the olfactory bulb (OB) were lost. The functional efficacy of cell ablation was demonstrated using a highly sensitive behavioural test to show that ablated mice had lost the olfactory ability to discriminate distinct odors and were consequently rendered anosmic. Targeted expression of Ntr to specific neuronal populations using conventional transgenes, as described here, or by "knock-in" gene targeting using embryonic stem cells may be of significant value to address the functions of distinct neuronal populations in vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurobiology
Issue number3
Early online date26 Apr 2001
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2001


  • ablation
  • neurone
  • conditional
  • transgenic
  • olfactory


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