Juárez-Morales, J.L., Martinez-De Luna, R.I., Zuber, M.E., Roberts, A., Lewis, K.E. (2017) Zebrafish transgenic constructs label specific neurons in Xenopus laevis spinal cord and identify frog V0v spinal neurons. Developmental Neurobiology. 77(8):1007-1020.
A correctly functioning spinal cord is crucial for locomotion and communication between body and brain but there are fundamental gaps in our knowledge of how spinal neuronal circuitry is established and functions. To understand the genetic program that regulates specification and functions of this circuitry, we need to connect neuronal molecular phenotypes with physiological analyses. Studies using Xenopus laevis tadpoles have increased our understanding of spinal cord neuronal physiology and function, particularly in locomotor circuitry. However, the X. laevis tetraploid genome and long generation time make it difficult to investigate how neurons are specified. The opacity of X. laevis embryos also makes it hard to connect functional classes of neurons and the genes that they express. We demonstrate here that Tol2 transgenic constructs using zebrafish enhancers that drive expression in specific zebrafish spinal neurons label equivalent neurons in X. laevis and that the incorporation of a Gal4:UAS amplification cassette enables cells to be observed in live X. laevis tadpoles. This technique should enable the molecular phenotypes, morphologies and physiologies of distinct X. laevis spinal neurons to be examined together in vivo. We have used an islet1 enhancer to label Rohon-Beard sensory neurons and evx enhancers to identify V0v neurons, for the first time, in X. laevis spinal cord. Our work demonstrates the homology of spinal cord circuitry in zebrafish and X. laevis, suggesting that future work could combine their relative strengths to elucidate a more complete picture of how vertebrate spinal cord neurons are specified, and function to generate behavior.